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MAY 1999] 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 


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The Impact of the Cold War 

American Popular Culture 

Elaine McClarnand, Ph.D. and Steve Goodson, Ph.D., editors 
Barbara L. Neuby, cover design 

The State University of West Georgia 

Volume XXXVI 

May 1999 

ISBN: 1-883199-11-5 

All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce these works may be obtained by writing the 
editors. Professional citations excluded. A double-blind review process was carried out 
for articles contained therein. 


Acknowledgements/ Contributors iii 


Elaine McClarnand and Steve Goodson, editors v 


Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 1 

Janna Jones, University of South Florida 

Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in 

Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 14 

Gary Hoppenstand, Michigan State University 

AMERIKA, The Miniseries: Television 's Last Cold War Gasp 25 

Jerry Rodnitzky, University of Texas at Arlington 

Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American 

Masculinity in the Atomic Age 33 

John Ott, University of California at Los Angeles 

From Vietnam to the New World Order: The GI Joe Action 

Figure as Cold War Artifact 47 

Roger Chapman. Bowling Green State University 

American Dream Meets Russian Nightmare: Professional Wrestling 

and the End of the Cold War 56 

Terence Whalen, University of Illinois at Chicago 

Advertising Freedom: COMMENTARY Magazine 

and the Cultural Cold War 65 

Nathan Abrams, Brunei University, United Kingdom 

Southern Fundamentalism and Antic ommunism at the 

Beginning of the Cold War: The Controversy Between 

J. Frank Norris and Louis D. Newton 81 

William R. Glass, Mississippi University for Women 


The Editors, contributors, and the Department of History would like to thank 
the Deans and the President of the State University of West Georgia for their 
support of this volume. 

In addition, we want to thank Dr. Barbara Neuby, Assistant Professor of Politi- 
cal Science at the State University of West Georgia, for her cover design as 
well as for her advice and assistance throughout the past year. 

About the Contributors... 

Janna Jones received her Ph.D. in Communication at the University of South 
Florida. She is the associate director of the Learning Communities and an 
assistant professor in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University 
of South Florida. Her research focuses on how people use and make sense of 
domestic and public spaces. 

Gary Hoppenstand is an Associate Professor teaching in the Department of 
American Thought and Language at Michigan State University. He has pub- 
lished numerous articles and books on topics ranging from nineteenth-century 
American literature to popular culture studies. His work has been nominated 
twice for the World Fantasy Award and his recent book, Popular Fiction: An 
Anthology (Longman, 1997), won the Popular Culture Association's National 
Book Award. 

Jerry Rodnitzky was educated at the University of Chicago and the Univer- 
sity of Illinois and is currently Professor of History at The University of Texas 
at Arlington. He is the author of Minstrels of the Dawn: The Folk-Protest Singer 
as a Cultural Hero (1976) and more recently, Jazz- Age Boomtown (1997) and 
Feminist Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of a Feminist Counterculture, which will 
be published in late 1999 by Greenwood Press. 

John Ott is a doctoral candidate in American Art History at the University of 
California, Los Angeles. His dissertation, "The Gilded Rush: Art Patronage 
and Cultural Mythologies in Victorian California," will examine how industri- 
alist patrons like Leland Stanford attempted to establish social authority through 
the conceptualization and institutionalization of a regional culture. He will 
also contribute an essay on the promotion of motor tourism in the Golden State 

by the Auto Club of Southern California for the catalog of the exhibition "Made 
in California," which is scheduled to open at the Los Angeles County Museum 
of Art in October 2000. In addition, he has presented scholarly papers on or- 
ange crate labels, world's fairs, the California Mission Revival, and the popu- 
lar visual mythology of the California Gold Rush. 

Roger Chapman is a Ph.D student in the American Culture Studies Program 
at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. 

Terence Whalen received his Ph.D. from Duke University. He is currently 
Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is 
the author of Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Lit- 
erature in Antebellum America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). 

Nathan Abrams is currently a lecturer in American History and Film at Brunei 
University where he teaches courses on US history, foreign policy, film, and 
communities. He has recently completed his Ph.D. entitled, "Struggling for 
Freedom: Arthur Miller, the Commentary Community, and the Cultural Cold 
War." He is the editor of Containing America: Cultural Production and Con- 
sumption in Fifties America, a collection of essays on Cold War culture which 
will be published in 1999 by Birmingham University Press. He has also pub- 
lished on American sport, music, and culture. 

William Glass received his PhD (1991) from Emory University. He is cur- 
rently an assistant professor of history at Mississippi University for Women. 
He has published articles on American religion in Jewish Social Studies, Ameri- 
can Baptist Quarterly, and American Presbyterians. He has contributed an ar- 
ticle on film composer Dimitri Tiompkin to American National Biography, 
and is currently working on a manuscript titled "Strangers in Zion: Funda- 
mentalists in the South, 1900-1950." 



Elaine McClarnand and Steve Goodson 
State University of West Georgia 

The Cold War. Less than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, 
the era has receded from public consciousness, like a bad dream best forgot- 
ten. Russia lurches toward a future that is uncertain at best, and the United 
States gropes for new means of self-definition in a world no longer conve- 
niently polarized between "good" and "evil." A generation has come of age 
with little memory of the period that helped define the lives of its parents and 
grandparents. For more than forty long years, however-years marked by tense 
military showdowns, strident political posturing, ideological broadsides, and 
ravaged third-world battlefields-the Cold War profoundly colored American 
consciousness. From the unraveling of the Grand Alliance following the ep- 
ochal victories of 1945, through a series of incidents that became milestones in 
the troubled history of the twentieth century-the Berlin Airlift, the Korean 
War, the development of the hydrogen bomb, the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Mis- 
sile Crisis, Vietnam, the Prague Spring, detente, Afghani stan-this epic con- 
frontation between East and West placed its grim stamp on U.S. politics, eco- 
nomics, and culture, leaving few areas of daily life untouched. 

Of course, the Cold War was far from the only development that shaped the 
United States in the postwar period. The U.S. emerged from World War II the 
richest and most militarily powerful nation on earth, and its citizens enjoyed 
the bounty of this status in a period of unparalleled economic growth. Begin- 
ning with the late 1940s, home construction boomed, suburbs expanded explo- 
sively, and America entered its heyday as the world's great consumer culture. 
American citizens spent countless dollars on automobiles, refrigerators, and 
every other erstwhile luxury under the sun. White collar workers for the first 
time outnumbered blue collar workers, and an enormous baby boom genera- 
tion was born and grew to maturity, vastly increasing markets for American 
goods. Mighty corporations thrived, and chain stores, hotels, and restaurants 
proliferated as American society maintained its march toward standardization. 
Government continued to enlarge in size and responsibilities, in part due to 
Cold War exigencies, but also because of a renewed commitment in the 1960s 
to address social problems left unresolved by the country's dazzling economic 
climb. The United States experienced a dramatic racial revolution in the fifties 
and sixties. This transformation occurred largely on the shoulders of a corre- 

sponding media revolution, as television radically altered Americans' percep- 
tions of their government, their society, the broader world, and themselves. 
The conjunction of these monumental postwar developments - the escalation 
of the Cold War amid the triumphs of America's consumer economy - forms 
the focus of our journal. 

There is a sense that, from its inception, the ideology of the Cold War was 
imposed upon the American people from above by an American government 
seeking to legitimize its foreign policy through appeals to loyalty, duty, and 
patriotism. It was largely to sever lingering pro-Soviet allegiances held over 
from World War II that President Truman in 1 947 went before Congress to 
depict a world engulfed by a titanic struggle between totalitarianism and de- 
mocracy. For the next four decades the government worked tirelessly to assure 
the devotion of its citizens to the cause, exhorting them, as in President 
Kennedy's ringing words, to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hard- 
ship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to insure the survival and 
success of liberty." That the "price" might include nuclear annihilation was a 
regrettable but inevitable consequence to be borne by a people proudly called 
to the task of "defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." 

With the global conflict posed in such stark, apocalyptic terms, it is little 
wonder that the Cold War so powerfully molded American culture and society. 
For as the contributors to this volume reveal, the Cold War was more than a 
series of riveting military and political events. It came to be part of everyday 
life in America, penetrating deeply into popular consciousness and finding 
expression in a myriad of cultural forms. It has become something of a truism 
for historians that people can and frequently do adapt to their own purposes the 
ideas and ideals that are offered to them. And so a central concern of this jour- 
nal is the level of cooperation between the state and the culture at large, the 
degree to which politics from the top influences culture, and the ways in which 
popular culture in turn puts its own mark upon those influences. The following 
essays show that individuals, groups, and institutions within American society 
often coopted officially pronounced Cold War values of loyalty, freedom, and 
democracy for their own interests and needs. From below, American consum- 
ers forged their own perceptions and understandings of global conflict, while 
American businessmen and manufacturers catered to and exploited both offi- 
cial pronouncements and popular consciousness. Clearly, the presentation of 
Cold War themes in popular culture did not always match government expec- 
tations. A contentious issue recurring in these essays, therefore, is that of he- 
gemony: to what extent did private entities either unquestioningly accept offi- 
cial policy and initiatives, or consciously shape those demands to capitalize on 
Cold War tensions? 

Janna Jones, Richard Chapman, and Nathan Abrams explore this interac- 
tion between public and private spheres during the Cold War. They show the 
strong imprint of Cold War fears and values on American culture, manifested 
in products such as GI Joe dolls and bomb shelters, but they also reveal how 
manufacturers and marketers themselves consciously manipulated Cold War 
ideology to sell these items. For although American businesses frequently co- 
operated with government-sponsored propaganda campaigns, they proved in 
turn highly skillful at employing Cold War slogans and motifs as convenient 
mechanisms for marketing their own products. Janna Jones examines the cam- 
paign to promote bomb shelters during the height of the Cold War, and the 
dilemma of trying to sell a product which inevitably evoked fears of nuclear 
catastrophe. She details the facile methods used by marketers who strove to 
overcome the association of the bomb shelter with nuclear holocaust while 
affirming middle-class values and projecting the optimistic outlook character- 
istic of postwar America's burgeoning consumer culture. Richard Chapman 
analyzes the connection between the GI Joe "action figure" and cultural hege- 
mony. He approaches the GI Joe doll as a tool of socialization, designed to 
impart a sense of duty and responsibility, attributes deeply and historically 
rooted in American ideology. The doll became an agent in the campaign to 
prepare Americans for the international military responsibilities demanded by 
the Cold War. In the tense and often heated atmosphere of the period, even toys 
could become political props, changing in appearance in conjunction with the 
needs and policies of the US government. 

Likewise, as Nathan Abrams demonstrates, advertisements for even such 
benign products as grape juice and candies became vehicles for promoting 
official values. Using 1950s issues of Commentary magazine as evidence, 
Abrams shows how American corporations such as Ford, Amoco, and RCA 
employed virtuous concepts such as "freedom" and "truth" not only to sell 
electronics and automobiles, but also to support the propaganda campaigns of 
the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. All three of these essays raise 
interesting questions about hegemony and the nature of public-private interac- 
tion in the Cold War: was there direct governmental pressure to incorporate 
official themes, or did companies simply sense the mood was right to associate 
their products with "trendy" ideas and symbols? Were these companies per- 
forming their "patriotic duty," or were they acting more in self-interest, capi- 
talizing on Cold War concerns to maximize profits? 

The Cold War penetrated the realm of popular entertainment as well, from 
fiction and comics to televised wrestling. Here a striking variety of heroes and 
anti-heroes emerged, reflecting as well as responding to Cold War themes, 

fears, and policies. Gary Hoppenstand's essay looks at the influence of the 
Cold War on postwar fiction, in particular the genre of the spy novel. 
Hoppenstand analyzes propagandistic elements in the work of Ian Fleming, 
creator of the romantic British spy, James Bond. Focusing specifically on the 
novel From Russia, With Love, Hoppenstand shows how Fleming purposefully 
constructed his fictional characterizations to demonstrate the moral bankruptcy 
and corruption of the Soviet system. The heartless Soviet villains stand in stark 
contrast to the dashing and passionate Bond, who personifies Western values 
and virtues. 

John Ott examines comic book superheroes against the backdrop of the 
Cold War. His work probes the strange interplay between Cold War fears of 
nuclear holocaust and postwar concerns over male sexuality, as reflected in the 
creation and depiction of such superheroes as Superman, Spiderman, and the 
Fantastic Four. Concentrating on the comics' "silver age"of 1956-1966, Ott 
suggests that these comic books present a psychological tapestry of the period. 
Resonating with angst and anxiety, comic books embodied dominant values 
while also deconstructing them. They represent a cultural expression of politi- 
cal concerns over communism and homosexuality, but also provided a means 
for readers to come to terms with their own fears and anxieties. 

Jerry Rodnitsky examines television and the Cold War. He critically ana- 
lyzes the ratings failure of the 1987 miniseries Amerika, which depicts the 
United States under Soviet occupation in the wake of nuclear war. Rodnitsky 
suggests factors that might explain the lack of audience interest, including in- 
ternal ambiguities and dark overtones of defeatism that repelled sponsors. 
Approaching the film as Cold War mythology and allegory, he explores the 
dynamic relationship between popular culture and politics, manifested in the 
politically charged and sharply conflicting interpretations of the program by 
liberals and conservatives. The series, he concludes, was certainly propaganda, 
yet contained enough subtle ironies and contradictions to make it richly evoca- 
tive of the real complexities of the Cold War era. 

Terence Whalen turns to the arena of professional wrestling, which he views 
as a form of performance art that, due to its scripted nature, reflects and incor- 
porates broad social and political issues. He tells the curious tale of the cre- 
ation and unexpected popularity of a unique 1980s tag team consisting of the 
"American Dream," Dusty Rhodes, and the "Russian Nightmare," Nikita Koloff. 
To explain the willingness of American wrestling fans to embrace a Russian 
known for such antics as desecrating the American flag, Whalen provocatively 
suggests that class-based resentments may have displaced Cold War mistrust 
as the source for determining heroes in the wrestling ring. The largely work- 
ing-class audiences that cheered Koloff s triumphs identified with the Russian 

as a fellow wage earner, struggling like they were to make sense of a confusing 
capitalist system. Whalen's work poses a definite challenge to theorists of cul- 
tural hegemony, arguing that the creation of cultural images and values is not a 
one-sided process. According to Whalen, influences from above are refash- 
ioned according to the tastes and needs of those generating and consuming 
popular culture, a process frequently resulting in outcomes that fly in the face 
of political orthodoxy. 

The final paper is by William Glass, who investigates the seeping of Cold 
War politics into the sphere of religion. He demonstrates the capacity of social 
forces to make their own political capital out of the Cold War through his 
analysis of a pre-McCarthy era attempt to use anticommunism as a means of 
attacking personal rivals. During the late forties, the rising conflict between 
democracy and communism played into a religious turf battle waged between 
Louie D. Newton, President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and J. 
Frank Norris, a feisty rival who hoped to usurp Newton and curb what he saw 
as excessive liberalism within the SBC. Norris tried unsuccessfully to use 
Newton's public praise of Soviet religious policy as a pretext for removing 
him from his presidency. To explain Norris' failure, Glass proposes that many 
in the postwar religious community may have assessed the Cold War and the 
Russian people through a non-political lens, seeing the Soviet Union as an 
open field for evangelical activity rather than as a forbidding enemy. Glass' 
study certainly reveals that as late as 1947 public fear of and hostility toward 
the Soviet Union had not yet reached the level that would be necessary to 
support the witchhunts of the McCarthy era. Clearly, however, in a year which 
witnessed the pronouncement of the Truman Doctrine, the first loyalty investi- 
gations of federal employees, and the beginning of Congress' probe into the 
motion picture industry, there were already opportunistic individuals prepared 
to turn the Soviet threat into a vehicle for personal political advantage. 

It is only fitting, perhaps, that a society zealously promoting the virtues of 
free enterprise to a divided world would turn the Cold War itself to a profit. 
Entrepreneurs - consciously, unconsciously, or somewhere in between - seized 
upon America's anxieties, molded them into marketable products, and then 
sold them back to the public which had given them birth. Some creators sin- 
cerely supported the values that they expressed in their products, while others 
promoted the values they thought most likely to sell. Some, wittingly or no, 
exaggerated public fears and biases, strengthening the Cold War mentality. 
Others questioned reigning principles, and may have served in their own small 
ways to soften the icy international impasse. In the Cold War we see popular 
culture in all its complexity and wonder - its sparkling ingenuity and its tired 
banality, its ephemeral triviality and its timelessness. 

The Cold War itself is over now, but much remains to be discovered and 
understood. As new archives open, historians will learn more about the politi- 
cal realities which created and fueled this epic struggle between superpowers. 
But it will also be important for historians to continue the kinds of work seen 
in this journal, so that they might understand the cultural reality that both flowed 
from and modified the political and ideological foundations of the era. In learn- 
ing how politics and culture interacted during this traumatic and enormously 
consequential period, we may gain deeper insights into our system, into our 
society, and, indeed, into our own psyches. 

Living With the Bomb: 
The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

Janna Jones 
University of South Florida 

The author would like to express appreciation to the following for their 
help: Mark Neumann, Bryan Taylor, David Payne, Elaine McClarnand, 
and Steve Goodson. 


In the years following the first detonations of Russian nuclear weapons, 
some Americans began constructing bomb shelters in their basements and back- 
yards. Widely read pamphlets on "How to Survive an Atomic Bomb" and ar- 
ticles in Popular Mechanics, Life, and Good Housekeeping urged readers to 
begin digging. Construction contractors commercialized the push for bomb 
shelters and promoted a variety of designs to accommodate different lifestyles 
and tastes. Guides conducted shelter tours outside supermarkets, downtown 
department stores and county fairs. Real estate sections of newspapers dis- 
played advertisements for shelters opposite pastoral pictures of split-level dream 
houses. Constructing a bomb shelter became one of the most ambitious "do-it- 
yourself projects of middle-class homeowners, who could follow blueprints 
published in the September 1961 issue of Life magazine. An accompanying 
article claimed that these shelters could save nearly all Americans from the 
mysterious and ominous specter of nuclear blasts and deadly radiation. That 
same year, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that every American home 
should have a bomb shelter. By 1962, over 200,000 American families had 
built bomb shelters and stocked them with food, water, and frequently a shot- 
gun to protect against their neighbors, who, seeking refuge from a nuclear 
blast, might attempt to enter another family's shelter. 1 

This article argues that bombshelter marketing discourse during the fifties 
and early sixties revealed an affirming definition of middle-class life in the 
Cold War era. While the promotion of bombshelters could not entirely circum- 
vent the reason why such an addition to the suburban home was necessary, the 
marketing that surrounded the bomb shelter depicted a consumer society (that 
existed in the shadow of nuclear devastation) as progressive, idealized, and 
optimistic. As Roland Marchand persuasively argues, such promotional dis- 
course can be interpreted as "social tableaux," providing direction to consum- 


ers in the midst of a growing consumer society. 2 As consumer choices became 
overwhelmingly abundant in the early decades of the twentieth century, adver- 
tisers stepped in, offering consumers images of the domestic sphere that could 
be achieved through the acquisition of modern appliances, furniture, and home 
decor. In many ways, such social tableaux represented an art form that aspired 
to what Micheal Schudson has called "Capitalist Realism." Like the genre of 
Soviet Socialist Realism that offered an affirming definition of life in the So- 
viet Union, Schudson finds a similar function in advertising images. Advertis- 
ing is a way of validating a vision of modern American life through consump- 
tion. American advertising, Schudson contends, offers a concrete representa- 
tion of reality in its capitalist development that simplifies and typifies. "It does 
not claim to picture reality as it is but reality as it should be — life and lives 
worth emulating. It is thoroughly optimistic, providing for any troubles that it 
identifies a solution in a particular product or style of life." 3 Bombshelters 
never became an overwhelmingly popular choice for suburban homeowners in 
America, but their marketing and promotion contributed to the optimistic por- 
trait of middle-class suburbia, consumerism, and aesthetics during the Cold 
War, despite the fact that the bombshelter's intended function was necessarily 
intertwined with the potential threat of nuclear war. We cringe in the late twen- 
tieth century when we imagine bomb shelter owners believing that such a ref- 
uge could possibly protect them from nuclear war. Yet, when we look closely 
at the techniques of bomb shelter marketing, we can see that the promotional 
images overtly celebrated the potential of domestic and consumer life, while at 
the same time burying the purpose behind the shelter. 

Nuclear Criticism 

Before turning to the implications of bombshelter marketing, it is helpful to 
establish its context by reviewing how recent criticism has evoked the domes- 
tication of the Cold War. Nuclear-culture historians and critics have confronted 
the cultural contradictions and tensions that faced suburban America during 
the years of the Cold War, including the domestication of the bombshelter. 
While little research has focused on the marketing of the bombshelter in rela- 
tion to its potential aesthetic and practical contribution to the home, nuclear- 
culture critics have characterized the disparities inherent in civil defense pro- 

Civil defense during the Cold War has been viewed largely as an extension 
of traditional American values such as self-determination, personal responsi- 
bility, and civic cooperation. Such virtues were seen as being anchored in the 
domestic sphere. Guy Oakes has described the promotion of domestic civil 
defense as a rhetoric that did not call for heroics or extraordinary efforts but 
instead for ordinary labor and entertainment that could lead to domestic self- 

Janna Jones 

discovery. "In the end," claims Oakes, "civil defense for the home articulated a 
strategy for survival and it also defined a way of life, an ethos that formed the 
character of the family." 4 Like Oakes, Elaine Tyler May has described how 
authoritative rhetoric of civil defense juxtaposed the fears of the nuclear age 
with the security of traditional family values. Civil defense strategies impreg- 
nated domesticity with new meaning and relevance, particularly traditional 
roles of women in the home. "Above all, women, as professionalized home- 
makers," writes May, "would fortify the home as a place of safety." 5 Jane Caputi 
effectively argues that the "buried" model for the Cold War nuclear family was 
the bomb shelter, which offered a flimsy promise of security in an insecure 
world. Caputi also points to the sometimes painful contradictions contained 
within the nuclear family home that paralleled the larger cultural tensions of 
the Cold War. The nuclear family embodied, Caputi contends, the larger, patri- 
archal power relations enacted between authorities and American citizens. The 
suburban family, protected by the "guarantees" of patriarchal safety, did not 
stop rape, battering, and incest. Rather the rhetoric of the nuclear family kept 
such violence hidden, much like the nuclear testing and war that were kept 
underground by the fathers of the Cold War. 6 

Gillian Brown, like May and Caputi, makes the argument that women were 
contained in the domestic sphere during the Cold War to help tame nuclear 
anxiety and ensure biological and ideological reproduction. Brown, however, 
also focuses on the bomb shelter as part of a larger ideology of survival by 
accrual of property. Nuclear shelter, Brown contends, follows a nineteenth- 
century doctrine of possessive individualism that equates freedom with pos- 
sessions. Stockpiling and the construction of bombshelters during the Cold 
War were an extension of a long tradition of the continuation of existence by 
virtue of proprietorship. 7 Elizabeth Walker Mechling and Jay Mechling sug- 
gest that civil defense propaganda attempted to domesticate nuclear fallout by 
linking it to the banalities of domestic everyday life. Like other nuclear-culture 
critics, they describe how the bomb shelter discourse emphasized the civic 
duty of survival and how such survival was firmly centered in images of do- 
mesticity. "Americans would come to understand the fallout shelter issue in 
terms of the family and of the family home," they argue. "Government rhetors 
attempted to exploit this 'intertextuality' between images of the home and im- 
ages of the fallout shelter." 8 

Spenser Weart writes that while bomb shelter owners (or at least the ones 
that survived a nuclear blast) were portrayed in the media as "new frontiers- 
man who could venture forth after the bomb," the mention of shelters did little 
to comfort people, and instead helped to remind them of the potential dangers 
of nuclear war. 9 Weart suggests that the civic defense propaganda surrounding 

Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

the bomb shelter did little to concretize how people would survive nuclear 
destruction. Instead bomb shelters were depicted "as architecture, either empty 
or housing deliberately bland and impassive people . . . The shelter debate 
drove home the idea of nuclear war as an indescribable catastrophe, while 
reinforcing murky associations with fantasies of victimization and survival, 
but it did little to bring the vague imagery into focus." 10 

Finally, Bryan Taylor explores the critical relationship between home and 
work sites in nuclear weapons organization. He discovers that it is "maintained 
through a series of related practices in both spheres" and that "inevitable con- 
tradictions between the images are alternately engaged, distorted, and de- 
ferred."" Taylor contends that exploring the competing tensions between 
"home-place" and "field-site" are essential for nuclear-culture studies. My study 
attempts to do just that, as I reveal how bomb shelter marketers framed the 
shelter as a potentially pleasant addition to the suburban home that correlated 
with American values of consumerism, prosperity, and individualism, while at 
the same time bomb shelter rhetoric masked the inherent purpose of the bomb 
shelter in order to assuage the dread and panic of nuclear war. 

Living in the Dream and the Nightmare 

During the postwar era, Americans were faced with two contradictory re- 
alities. Ironically, Americans' lives and property seemed to be imperiled by 
forces beyond their control at a time when many were enjoying a new au- 
tonomy. On one hand, most middle-class Americans were experiencing an eco- 
nomic prosperity that granted them enough purchasing power to create new 
lives in the suburbs. On the other hand, Americans were threatened with the 
terror of ultimate and complete nuclear destruction. 

The American middle-class in the fifties and early sixties was riding the 
wave of prosperity that followed World War II. Unlike Europe and Japan, no 
violence had erupted on American soil, so little economic and architectural 
rejuvenation was necessary. Wartime technology not only ensured American 
victory, but enabled American mass production after the war to thrive, creating 
huge markets of consumption. "It was thrilling to know, absolutely know," 
explains historian Loren Baritz, "that the next move would be to a private house, 
from the city to the green suburbs, that the new job would not only pay the bills 
but bring respect, and that the growing number of children would get the sort 
of education that would propel then into even more affluence." 12 

American families confidently moved into the nineteen million colonial 
and ranch-style houses built after 1945. By the end of the fifties, one-third of 
America's population was suburban. About one million suburban houses were 
built in 1946, while in 1950 a staggering 1.7 million new houses sprang up in 
suburbs around the country. From 1950 to 1970 the suburban population doubled 

Janna Jones 

from 36 million to 74 million. 13 "To many Americans," writes Clifford Clark, 
"this remarkable house boom appeared at the time to be a reaffirmation of the 
American Dream of prosperity and security." 14 Growing American suburbs 
seemed to embody the production-line ingenuity of the war, and families ev- 
erywhere sought the comfort, safety and satisfaction of the American dream in 
a preassembled package. Possession of a home, for millions of postwar Ameri- 
cans, was the evidence of property that, since Adam Smith and John Locke, 
had served as a marker of individualism and freedom. The builder of Levittown 
saw the suburbs as an assurance that America would never become a commu- 
nist country. "No man," Bill Levitt boasted, "who owns his own house and lot 
can be a Communist. He has too much to do." 15 

Yet, an uneasiness shadowed the dream, for nestled alongside prosperity 
was the potential for nuclear annihilation. Less than a decade had passed since 
the Enola Gay had dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese in 1945. The 
destruction at Hiroshima was only the beginning of America's awareness of 
the bomb. In September of 1949, an American reconnaissance plane sampled 
the stratosphere and reported an unusually high level of radioactivity, indicat- 
ing that the Soviets had set off an atomic bomb. 16 On the first of March 1954, 
the first hydrogen bomb exploded at Bikini in the Marshall Islands, a thousand 
times more powerful than the bomb at Hiroshima. One hundred miles east of 
Bikini, Japanese fishermen watched the explosion. Within two weeks, most of 
the fishing crew became extremely ill; many of them died from cancer-like 
symptoms within the year. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had de- 
stroyed life at its epicenter, but radiation from the hydrogen bomb could kill 
from a hundred miles away. 17 The public realized that the hydrogen bomb 
could obliterate an entire city, perhaps even an entire state. "At least some 
thoughtful Americans of the late 1940s, then, grappled for the first time with 
the ultimate question," writes historian Paul Boyer, "what meaning can one's 
individual life have when all human life might vanish at any time?" 18 

This immediately and dramatically altered the relationship between America 
and Russia, and set the stage for a Cold War characterized by paranoia and fear 
of oblivion. During the summer of 1961, with the world focused on the Berlin 
Wall, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev became petulant over the presence of 
NATO troops in Berlin. On September 1, a huge fireball rose over Russia, as 
Khrushchev abruptly ended the three-year bilateral moratorium on nuclear test- 
ing. He warned the United States of forthcoming 50-100 megaton warheads 
powerful enough to ignite Vermont. 19 President Kennedy promised that he 
would let every American know "what steps he can take without delay to pro- 
tect his family in case of attack". 20 On September 7, 1961, Life published a 
letter from Kennedy urging Americans to read about and construct fallout shel- 

Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

ters for protection. The article following Kennedy's letter included simple blue- 
prints for bomb shelters that could be built underneath an existing house. Some 
middle-class Americans complied by returning to a familiar patriotic psycho- 
sis of war production. Like the building of factories, war machines and atomic 
bombs, constructing bomb shelters could help ensure America's survival. 

Trying to suppress their bomb anxiety, many Americans attempted to ig- 
nore the threat of possible destruction resulting from an atomic invasion. "Al- 
though the nature of the disaster has been stated over and over again, most of 
us act as though we had never heard of it," wrote John Ely Burchard, the Dean 
of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at MIT in 1954. "This is not, 
in the present state of affairs, a position to be proud of. To say we are bored 
with the hydrogen bomb is simply inane." 21 Americans were not bored with 
the threat of unequivocal destruction. They were simply unable to imagine it. 
The destruction during World War II had not occurred on American soil and 
Hiroshima was a faraway nightmare. Public safety films focused on the min- 
utes building up to destruction but avoided showing the devastation itself. 

Some people. did try to cope with the knowledge of the hydrogen bomb by 
building a shelter under or adjacent to their homes. The home — the symbol of 
prosperity, safety, success, and permanence — had been the material evidence 
of the American dream. The fallout shelter threatened to dismantle the security 
that the suburban home symbolized. "Safety seemed beyond grasp," explains 
historian Tom Engelhart. "However narrowly an exclusionary line might be 
drawn around the suburban family, something threatening was already inside." 22 
The home with a bomb shelter contained both hope and despair, beginnings 
and endings, safety and peril. 

Yet, importantly, there were other motives for building a shelter underneath 
the home, reasons that marked financial well-being as well as hope for a pros- 
perous future. An addition of a new room, bomb shelter or not, required a 
surplus of financial resources and was a sign of prestige. A finished bomb 
shelter increased a home's value on the real estate market, and the added room 
helped to accommodate the anticipated the needs of a growing family, for it 
could be used as a playroom or study. However, unlike typical additions, the 
shelter's perceived purpose was protection against death. Its construction was 
not only a symbolic marker of optimism like most home building, but also an 
addition of darkness. Still, it marked a certain trust in the future because shel- 
ter owners were told that in the event of a nuclear blast, their families, unlike 
families without them, would have a 97 percent chance of surviving. 

Yet, despite such an optimistic prediction, not all suburban home owners 
began digging. Marketers had to work hard to glamorize the bomb shelter. The 
shelters, they discovered, had to have aesthetic and practical appeal to con- 
sumers and foster the yearning for acquisition. 

Janna Jones 

Marketing the Shelter 

While Americans were coping with divergent ideologies of prosperity and 
destruction, bomb shelter promoters were constructing a marketing strategy 
that appealed to both the functional and aesthetic motives of home owners. 
Bomb shelters were a difficult product to sell because they would fulfill a need 
only at a time of nuclear destruction, a need people did not want to consider. 
Shelters were therefore promoted as attractive additions to the home. Middle- 
class materialism suppressed, or at least disguised, the purpose of the shelter 
and the destruction it suggested. By creating designer facades of prosperity 
and comfort, marketers made the shelter less abhorrent. Yet, the suppression of 
possible destruction was the shelter designer's ultimate purpose, so the terror 
could never completely disappear. The seams of such promotion were always 
under threat of being exposed because of the designer's constant aesthetic at- 
tention to hiding the shelter's function. 

In 1960, Mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed the first week of January to be 
American Institute of Design Week in Chicago in conjunction with the "Fam- 
ily Room of Tomorrow," an exhibit of upscale bomb shelters. Created as a 
public service, shoppers first saw the "Family Room of Tomorrow" in the lobby 
of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. According to Marc T. Nielson, the chief 
designer of the exhibit: 

Anyone bent on pressing the button to trigger an atomic war will 
pause when he realizes that a great many of our people can be 
saved from atomic fallout while he himself might not . . . Instead 
of facing the task with fear that an attack will surely come, we 
feel that if we do our job well, it will never come about. In this 
way we, too, contribute to the cause of peace. 23 

Nielson believed that interior designers could contribute to peace by de- 
signing attractive bomb shelters. Whether the bomb shelter would actually pro- 
tect families against radiation and death was not the major concern. The vision 
of hundreds of thousands of families burying themselves in their back yards 
was a symbol of a unified front against a potential air strike. The American 
Institute of Design surmised that America would be less likely to be attacked if 
hostile forces were unable to kill people. Shelter promoters linked an attractive 
bomb shelter design with a larger Cold War brand of paranoid logic, yet cer- 
tainly they had other motives besides saving the world from destruction. They 
also had discovered a new market in which to profit. 

For bomb shelters to become a form of national security and a profitable 
enterprise, Americans first had to be convinced to buy a shelter. Shelter mar- 
keters and designers supplemented the motive of protection with an aesthetic 

Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

incentive. To entice the public to buy shelters, designers introduced aestheti- 
cally pleasing and opulent designs that would enhance the public's recently 
constructed suburban homes. Nielson wanted the public to become interested 
in fallout protection. In order to accomplish this he proposed that: 

The shelter must be made attractive. A room constructed to all 
requirements of OCDM (Office of Civil Defense and Mobiliza- 
tion), with no use except in extreme emergency, cannot easily be 
sold to the public, particularly on such a grim basis. A dual pur- 
pose room should do much to stimulate more interest in fallout 
shelters. A room that can be used permanently would have more 
appeal than a secluded refuge which one would approach with 
dread. 24 

"The Family Room of Tomorrow" reveals several contradictions at work in 
bomb shelter promotion. The cultural contradictions that manifest themselves 
suggest the ways that promoters managed and marketed some of the discrep- 
ancies of the period. In the 1950s, the term "family room" expressed conflict- 
ing visions of the home and family as well as a design style recently incorpo- 
rated into the layout of the popular suburban ranch home. In their campaign to 
sell products for the family and home, appliance makers and building-material 
manufacturers presented a new model of middle-class life during the late 1940s 
and early 1950s. "At the center of this model," writes Clark, "was the image of 
the family as the focus of fun and recreation." 2 " A family room/bomb shelter 
suggested a simple integration of a shelter into the "family lifestyle" character- 
ized by the architecture of the suburban home. It implied family interaction, 
barbecues, and Saturday afternoon recreation. Yet Engelhart suggests that the 
family enclosed in their suburban home not only invoked images of fun but 
also security. "In the ranch house, the mom protected by her working husband 
was to raise a new generation of children, fortified by the products of abun- 
dance against all terrors." 26 The image of the family and the family room in 
bomb shelters summoned visions of both fun and safety; while in conflict with 
one another, these ideals fused together were persuasive promotional images. 

By naming the bomb shelter "the family room of tomorrow," promoters 
veiled the fear of destruction and "no tomorrows" by invoking images of 
progress and the future. Yet, the name also challenged the notion of progress, 
for it implied that a nuclear attack was possible as soon as tomorrow, giving 
urgency to the project and to the public's need to build shelters. The incongru- 
ous representations of leisure and survival were the most powerful conflicts 
contained within the recreational room. Had the family room of tomorrow been 
necessary in an actual nuclear attack, the idealized space for youthful fun and 
recreation would recede into a space of survival where the whole family, theo- 

Janna Jones 

retically, could live for weeks. The images that the promotional literature de- 
picted were of people merely extending their ideal family time into another 
room of their suburban house, yet the emergency family room would have 
been a space where the family recreated their existence after nuclear attack. 

Bomb shelter designers fashioned images that appealed to suburban aes- 
thetics and satisfied potential buyers' desires for comfort, domesticity and pros- 
perity. At the same time, the shelters adhered to specifications of the Office of 
Civil and Defense Mobilization. The designers appealed to the dual motives of 
possible bomb shelter owners. Homeowners wanted to be safe, but they also 
wanted an aesthetically pleasing environment that looked smart in relationship 
to the rest of their ranch-style homes. Nielson's design used subdued and natu- 
ral colors. Designer touches of furnishings "in fabrics of muted tones of red, 
brown, and gray, and Dunbar walnut furniture and paneling" created an ambi- 
ence of warmth and suggested an image of nature. The ceiling was painted sky 
blue, creating the illusion of open space and the outdoors. Food was stored 
behind revolving walnut doors. Interestingly, a world map covered the doors 
as a "decorative interest." It seems an odd focal point for a bomb shelter, per- 
haps serving as a gesture of assurance that the world could have survived a 
nuclear war. A bicycle was included in the design as well. It served two poten- 
tial functions; it could be used for exercise and to pump fresh air into the room, 
though it is uncertain where the fresh air would have come from. 

Other designers also masked the function of shelters with suburban aesthet- 
ics. Jack Rees, for example, found ways to conceal water, an essential ingredi- 
ent during an emergency. Rather than storing it in a closet, Rees put the water 
in colorful bottles displayed on eight shelves for decorative effect. Another 
designer, Roy Beal, offered a shelter that posed as a library. Beal's design 
concealed all essential equipment behind panels of walnut to create "a fallout 
shelter that has all the appearances of a library-study." 27 False book fronts 
concealed storage space within the room, and on another wall a false book 
motif on panels hid fold-down beds. Potential shelter owners were presented 
at once with attractive shelter designs and with a means of coping with the 
threat of desolation and isolation. The fallout shelter, like the consciousness of 
the consumer, was to be fully prepared for nuclear attack, yet the consumers' 
fears and the shelter's provisions were to remain concealed, as if the threat did 
not exist. 

Perhaps one of the most peculiar shelter design features was the frequent 
use of the television set as the centerpiece of the room. A familiar suburban 
icon, the television set in the bomb shelter constructed a sense of spaciousness 
and connection to the outside world, yet a realization of its uselessness in the 
event of a nuclear attack would not have escaped either the designers or the 
potential buyers. As a focal point, the TV epitomized the contradictions of 

Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

utility and aesthetic desire that the bomb shelter, as we have seen, represented. 
For in the case of the TV set, the motive of survival was nearly buried and the 
desire for attractive surroundings and prestige was placed in the center of the 

While the televisions in the bomb shelter designs were battery generated, it 
is difficult to imagine a television station broadcasting either emergency news 
or / Love Lucy after a full-blown nuclear attack. Nonetheless, the television 
occupied as central a place in the shelter as it did in the world above it. In 1960, 
the television was still a relatively new phenomenon which was redefining the 
domestic environment and redirecting the gaze within the home. As furniture, 
the TV set created aesthetic quandaries. Home magazines sought to master it, 
for "television was no longer a focal point of the room," writes Lynn Spigel, 
"rather it was a technological eyesore, something which threatened to destabi- 
lize the unities of interior decor." 28 So why did interior designers, aware of the 
desire to conceal the television, include it as a focal point of their fallout shel- 
ter design? 

A fallout shelter, for practical purposes of protection was essentially a cave, 
completely isolated from the rest of the house and the rest of the world. At 
odds with this image of the cave was the ranch-style architecture of the period, 
which idealized the illusion of space. Home magazines advised readers on 
tactics that would make the home appear as if it included the public sphere. 
Landscape paintings and wallpaper rendering nature or exotic vistas encour- 
aged the illusion of space inside the home. Picture windows and sliding glass 
doors also simulated spaciousness. 29 In order for the fallout shelter to resemble 
the rest of the home and the images of home that families desired, designers 
attempted to create a similar illusion of space in the shelter. Obviously, it was 
impossible to place windows or sliding glass doors in the shelter. By bringing 
the notion of the outside to the inside, the shelter fostered the illusion of space, 
and its design conformed to the rest of the house. 

In a sense, the bomb shelter designs that included television sets magnified 
the features of the houses above them. The model shelters mimicked as best 
they could the aesthetic motifs depicted in the typical ranch-style home, and 
they pointed to the seclusion fostered by suburban life. Placing the television 
as the focal point of the fallout shelter conjured not only a possibility of spa- 
ciousness, but assured a connection with a larger world that, as Spigel argues, 
had become one of its central functions in the growth of suburbia. Public life 
was created in the suburbs by private ownership, and the television set helped 
generate the illusive connections of community within the walls of the home. 
"There was an odd sense of connection and disconnection in this new subur- 
bia," Spigel writes, "an infinite series of separate, but identical homes, strung 
together like Christmas tree lights on a tract with one central switch." 30 That 


Janna Jones 

switch of course was the communications complex, most importantly the tele- 
vision set. Understanding the irony of the functionless bomb shelter television 
highlights the aesthetic desires and downplays the motive of utility for both 
designers and potential owners. In addition, the TV set in the bomb shelter 
serves as a magnified example of the isolation that existed in suburban life. 


The discourse of bomb shelter promoters appeared in the face of a potential 
nuclear nightmare, expressing the disjointed logic of the American Dream that 
surfaced in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. The construction of bomb 
shelters revealed how invested some middle-class Americans had become in a 
growing suburban lifestyle and how irrational the scene of their dreams had 
become. The American dream of home ownership became profoundly and 
paradoxically changed when the bomb shelter was built underneath the home. 
Dreams of security and prosperity became nightmares of potential loss and 
devastation. This disparity challenges the myths of postwar suburban Utopias, 
now so pervasive and sentimental at the end of the twentieth century. A rising 
income, a private house and car were not sufficient ingredients for the good 
life in the post-war period, argues Loren Baritz. "It was as if the solution, or 
near-solution, of the economic equation," Baritz writes, "revealed an underly- 
ing psychological crisis." 31 The accumulation of material delights, suburban- 
ites discovered, did not solve their problems within the home or outside of it. 

The bomb shelter is one material manifestation of that crisis. No matter 
how nicely designed or how secluded, no one living above a shelter built in 
anticipation of nuclear devastation dreamt only of good fortune. The owner of 
a bomb shelter could never forget that without warning the American dream 
could disappear completely and forever. While the suburban house represented 
the desire of individualism, the bomb shelter dwelling beneath it represented 
the irrationality of that dream. Rather than encouraging Americans to collec- 
tively confront the nuclear threat, the promoters of the shelters sold the doc- 
trine of commercialized and privatized survival. If a nuclear attack had oc- 
curred, the American family in their bomb shelter would have waited out the 
end of the world in much the same way they lived everyday life, separated 
from their suburban neighbors. In 1961 President Kennedy encouraged Ameri- 
cans to bury themselves underneath their carefully trimmed suburban shrubs. 
Thirty-five years later, we may perceive the building of a bomb shelter as an 
irrational act, but it was rational when framed within the logic of individual- 
ism, consumerism and prosperity of the Cold War era. 

Most of us have buried the shelter in a graveyard of nostalgia. As the Cold 
War began to defrost, bomb shelter owners started using them as convenient 
storage units, wine cellars, dark rooms and storage spaces for the forgotten and 


Living With the Bomb: The Retreat to the Suburban Bomb Shelter 

neglected. Around the country Raggedy Ann dolls, transistor radios, hi-fis, 
Life magazines, and bunk beds lie in the darkness of shelters. The bomb shelter 
preserves and entombs the life style, the status, the dreams of consumption and 
the self-improvement mindset of the fifties and early sixties. Marguerite 
Stufflebean and her husband still live above their bomb shelter in suburban 
Tucson. Stocked with canned water, army cots, emergency food and a Geiger 
counter, the shelter, a showcase promoting civil defense in the late 1950s, was 
free, courtesy of the federal government. "Eventually, it ended up being used 
for storage," Stufflebean said. "It was good for that, free of moisture and even 
bugs. Lizards seem to like it though." 32 

Protected from the elements, the artifacts remaining inside bomb shelters 
are nearly perfectly preserved. Tangible evidence of a time that has slipped 
away, the entombed material culture of the Cold War may someday be discov- 
ered by future generations of archaeologists. Like the antiquated merchandise 
they often store, bomb shelters mass-produced a promise of security and indi- 
vidualism. They promoted a design for a lifestyle in a consumer society that 
differentiated some from others — drawing lines between people based on eco- 
nomic divisions, and confidently affirming the orders of suburban life. Today, 
the shelters remain a persistent reminder, now conspicuously viewed with nos- 
talgia and sentimentality, of how Americans sought to preserve a lifestyle that 
could, and eventually did, slip away. That world was not lost to the bomb, but 
to the necessarily changing tastes and products of a consumer society. 


' Bruce Watson, "We Couldn't Run, So We Hoped We Could Hide," Smithsonian, 
25 (April 1994), 47. 

2 Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 
1920-1940 (Berkeley, 1985), 166. 

3 Micheal Schudson, Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on 
American Society (New York, 1984), 166. 

4 Guy Oaks, The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture 
(New York, 1994), 117. 

5 Elaine Tyler May, "Explosive Issues: Sex, Women and the Bomb," Recasting 
America: Cultural Politics in the Age of the Bomb, ed. Lary May (Chicago. 1989). 163. 

6 Jane Caputi, Gossips, Gargons, and Crones: The Fates of the Earth (Santa Fe, 
1993), 101. 

7 Gillian Brown, "Nuclear Survival: Sequence and Survival," Arms and the Woman: 
War, Gender, and Literary Representation, eds. H.M Cooper, A. A. Munich, & S.M 
Squier ( Chapel Hill, 1989), 291. 


Janna Jones 

8 Elizabeth Walker Mechling and Jay Mechling, "The Campaign for Civil Defense 
and the Struggle to Naturalize the Bomb," Western Journal of Speech Communication, 
55 (Spring 1991), 115. 

9 Spenser Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge, 1988), 256. 

10 Ibid., 257. 

1 ' Bryan Taylor, "Home Zero: Images of Home and Field," Western Journal of Com- 
munication, 61 (Spring 1997), 214. 

12 Loren Baritz, The Good Life: The Meaning of Success for the Middle Class (New 
York, 1982), 195. 

13 Ibid., 198. 

14 Clifford E. Clark, "Ranch-House Suburbia: Ideals and Realities," in May, Recast- 
ing America, 171. 

13 David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Ballentine Books, 1993), 132. 

16 Halberstam, 25. 

17 Halberstam, 347. 

18 Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the 
Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York, 1985), 279. 

19 Watson, 53. 

20 Ibid. 

21 John Ely Burchard, "Architecture in the Atomic Age," Architectural Record 116 
(December 1954), 123. 

22 Tom Engelhart, The End of Victory Culture (New York, 1995), 106. 

23 "The Family Room of Tomorrow," Interior Design 31 (January 1960). 1 14. 

24 Ibid. 

25 Clark, 172. 

26 Engelhart, 106. 

27 "The Family Room of Tomorrow," 1 15. 

28 Lynn Spigel, "Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and 
Domestic Space," Camera Obscura, 16 (January 1988), 33. 

29 Ibid., 15. 

30 Ibid., 14. 

31 Baritz, 204. 

32 Michelle DeArmond, The Arizona Daily Star, June 1, 1996, 8D. 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: 

Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's 

From Russia, with Love 

Gary Hoppenstand 

Michigan State University 

Only a handful of literary protagonists found in popular culture (and spe- 
cifically in the various genres of popular fiction) have achieved a larger cul- 
tural identity that extends beyond the pages of their original print sources. 
Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's Man of Steel comic book superhero. Super- 
man, is one of these characters, as is Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp magazine 
King of the Jungle, Tarzan. Certainly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's world-famous 
consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, must be included in this select group, 
as must Ian Fleming's intrepid Cold War spy, the dashing and suave James 
Bond, Agent 007. 

Since popular fiction is fundamentally political in nature ' — if "political" 
can be defined as the adherence to a particular governmental system regarding 
the implementation of larger ideological beliefs and values — then James Bond, 
of all the archetypal heroes in Western popular culture, can be considered as 
one of the most political of characters. Indeed, regarding the question of 
Fleming's political intent in writing the James Bond adventures, noted author 
and critic Anthony Burgess suggests "There was a patriotic motive hiding be- 
hind Fleming's primary desire, which was to entertain." : And, with but a few 
exceptions, 3 whatever the political motivations that lurked behind Fleming's 
efforts, readers and critics alike were greatly enamored of the James Bond 
adventures. Burgess himself claims that Bond "has the stuff of immortality in 
him," 4 while Umberto Eco legitimizes Fleming's work by devoting a lengthy 
scholarly essay, "The Narrative Structure in Fleming," to a close, structural 
analysis of the Bond adventures. 5 Kingsley Amis wrote an entire book-length 
study on the James Bond phenomenon entitled The James Bond Dossier, which. 
Amis informs his readers, began as a modest five thousand-word article. It 
blossomed into an extensive monograph when Amis discovered the deceptive 
complexity of Fleming's writing. Amis states in his Preface: 

Part of my motive for writing about them [the Bond adventures] 
was my conviction . . . that they were more than simple 
cloak-and -dagger stories with a bit of fashionable affluence and 


Gary Hoppenstand 

sex thrown in. I suspected that, on the contrary, I would find them 
to be just as complex and to have just as much in them as more 
ambitious kinds of fiction. I was right. 6 

This essay, then, seeks to examine more closely one of Ian Fleming's James 
Bond novels, From Russia, with Love (1957), in an attempt to investigate how 
the spy story served as effective political propaganda during the Cold War era 
in Great Britain and the United States. This essay will also offer several defini- 
tions of the spy story and discuss the social-psychological function of spy fic- 
tion, as well as provide a specific analysis of the various thematic elements in 
From Russia, with Love that identify the novel as a work of obvious political 
intent. Finally, it will be suggested that there exist several powerful, specific 
narrative schemes in From Russia, with Love that shape the ubiquitous and 
archetypal "good" versus "evil" story into an emotionally compelling and cul- 
turally dynamic example of popular culture propaganda. 

Without a doubt, Ian Fleming's James Bond novels were among the most 
popular and influential spy stories to appear in America and Great Britain dur- 
ing the Cold War period. 7 But what exactly constitutes a "spy story"? The 
editors of the reference book Spy Fiction: A Connoisseur's Guide argue that 
the spy story is a difficult genre to define, largely "because it is so flexible — it 
can incorporate elements from the adventure novel, the romance and the de- 
tective story: it may even include them all." 8 Editors McCormick and Fletcher 
go on to state that the spy story "dramatizes events," offering the reader a 
highly introspective fiction which examines how different people confront dif- 
ferent types of conflict. 9 Conversely, John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenberg, 
in their monograph The Spy Story, see a considerably more narrowed defini- 
tion of the genre. "We are . . . less interested in the idea of the 'thriller,'" state 
Cawelti and Rosenburg, "than in the more specific notion of the spy story, 
which we define as a story whose protagonist has some primary connection 
with espionage." ,0 Cawelti and Rosenburg claim that the twentieth century is 
the "Age of Clandestinity," and that spy fiction is a type of literary response to, 
or narrative symptom of, the collective paranoia embraced by a society that 
requires clandestine acts to preserve its national security. They also claim that 
the spy hero, such as Ian Fleming's James Bond, is "one of our [society's] 
favorite mythical heroes." " 

The most popular writer of spy-fiction-as-propaganda during the early years 
of the Cold War was James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. Fleming's experience 
in British military intelligence work during World War II provided him with 
essential background material for his James Bond adventures, as well as so- 
lidifying his political views. As Fleming's biographer, John Pearson, states in 
his The Life of Ian Fleming, "Everyone agrees that Fleming rapidly developed 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 

a surprising feeling for the Navy. The oddly persuasive trappings of the Admi- 
ralty intensified that same pre- 19 14 brand of now unfashionable patriotism 
which he passed on to James Bond." 12 Following the war, Fleming became the 
manager of the Kemsley newspapers' foreign news office. Anthony Burgess 
believes that Fleming's skills as a professional journalist served him well when 
he began writing fiction: 

It is important to remember that, like Daniel Defoe, he [Fleming] 
was a journalist before he was a writer of fiction, and a good jour- 
nalist too. The clarity of his style in the novels proclaims this, the 
apt image, the eye for detail, the interest in world affairs on the 
one hand and, on the other, the fascination with the minutiae of 
everyday life. Because he is a best-seller, it is easy to forget that 
Fleming is a distinguished writer of English prose. 13 

Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, published in 1954, also featured the first 
appearance of James Bond. Fleming would go on to write eleven more Bond 
novels and two collections of Bond short stories. Regarding the influence that 
Fleming's work had on the society that read his stories, critic Ann S. Boyd 
states in her monograph, The Devil with James BondV. 

Regardless of what anyone says now and whatever significance 
people might consider the Bond phenomenon to have a century 
from now, there can be little doubt concerning the impact it made 
when it struck the cultural mainland with full-fledged hurricane 
force in the 1960s. The ubiquitous symbol of secret agent 007 
was found everywhere — from bread and bubblegum to men's fash- 
ions and toiletries, from parlor games to children's dolls and pa- 
per dolls, from his own image to that of imitations in books, films, 
and television series. I4 

Fleming, however, did not begin his literary career as a best-selling writer 
of spy fiction. The sales of his first five Bond novels — Casino Royale, Live 
and Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), and 
From Russia, with Love (1957) — were moderate at best, and at one point, as 
did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, Fleming considered termi- 
nating Bond's literary career (at the conclusion of the fifth novel, From Russia, 
with Love, the reader is unsure if Bond will live or die). But Fleming did con- 
tinue writing and publishing Bond adventures, resurrecting the intrepid British 
spy from near death in the sixth Bond novel, Doctor No (1958). Following the 
growing commercial success of both From Russia, with Love and Doctor No, 
Fleming went on to publish Goldfinger (1959), Thunderball (1961), The Spy 
Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), You Only Live 


Gary Hoppenstand 

Twice (1964), and The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), as well as the collec- 
tion For Your Eyes Only (1960). Each newly released book gained greater popu- 
larity with a Cold War readership and elevated Fleming to the national and 
international best-seller lists. The collection Octopussy and The Living Day- 
lights (1966) was released posthumously following Fleming's death in 1964. 
In retrospect, James Bond dominated Ian Fleming's writing. Outside of the 
Bond canon, he published just one thriller, The Diamond Smugglers (1957), 
and a children's book, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (1964-65), as well as two non- 
fiction works, Thrilling Cities (1963) and (posthumously) Ian Fleming Intro- 
duces Jamaica (1965). 

In their book Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero, 
Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott support the argument that James Bond was 
a political hero for the middle class. They claim the novel that transformed 
Bond "from a character within a set of fictional texts into a household name" 
was From Russia, with Love, when it was serialized in the Daily Express. 13 As 
Bennett and Woollacott state, 

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the network of cultural and ideological 
concerns Bond served to condense and articulate in the late 1950s 
centered most closely on the relations between East and West, 
relations which had become particularly tense as a consequence 
of Russia's invasion of Hungary in 1956. Bond, that is to say, 
functioned first and foremost, although not exclusively, as a Cold 
War hero, an exemplary representative of the virtues of Western 
capitalism triumphing over the evils of Eastern communism. ' 6 

Bennett's and Woollacott's point is reinforced by the fact that one of Fleming's 
most famous fans was John F. Kennedy, l7 who, as President of the United 
States, was the most important leader of the Free World during the Cold War 
period. Though it can perhaps be debated whether Fleming's James Bond ad- 
ventures are "intentional propaganda," 18 what cannot be debated is the fact 
that these spy stories are effective propaganda. Indeed, of all the Bond novels,. 
From Russia, with Love offers the most obvious example of how Fleming used 
the spy story to create a type of Cold War-era literature of propaganda. 

What Fleming did in From Russia, with Love that made it so powerful as 
propaganda was to place the fantastic, larger-than-life pulp elements of the 
story in a realistic frame. Fleming announces to his reader in an Author's Note 
at the beginning of the novel that the Soviet organization called SMERSH 
(which, Fleming notes, is a contraction for Smiert Spionam, or "Death to Spies") 
was a real agency. Fleming then offers detailed statistics regarding the opera- 
tional strength of SMERSH in 1956 (when the novel was written), as well as a 
statement that the setting in the novel for the infamous meeting of spies in 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 

Moscow is accurate. Fleming goes on to claim that many of the top Soviet 
officials at this meeting also exist. But, if we take Fleming's word regarding 
these professed statements of accuracy, he nevertheless interjects into his "au- 
thentic" portrayal of Soviet espionage an aggregation of wonderfully pulp-like 
villains and plot devices. For example, he places the action of the later portion 
of the novel on the Orient Express, a favorite setting for writers of thrillers. 

The plot of From Russia, with Love is a rather simple one. The Soviets want 
a public relations victory over British Intelligence. They select James Bond, 
who has been a troublesome thorn in their sides in the past, as their target. 
They plan to entice Bond to help a beautiful Russian woman to defect with a 
top secret decipher machine, and then to photograph Bond secretly as he makes 
love to the woman. Their scheme concludes with Bond's murder at the hands 
of SMERSH's top assassin. 

During the meeting in which the heads of the various departments of the 
Soviet espionage bureaucracy devise the strategy for Bond's humiliation and 
death, the reader is informed that what is hoped for in this "konspiratsia" is an 
attack against the British Intelligence's overweening sense of morality. As Lieu- 
tenant-General Vozdvishensky, a representative of the Soviet Foreign Minis- 
try, tells his colleagues at the meeting table: "these men and women [of British 
Intelligence] continue to do this dangerous work [with little reward.] It is curi- 
ous. It is perhaps the Public School and University tradition. The love of ad- 
venture ... Of course, most of their strength lies in the myth — the myth of 
Scotland Yard, of Sherlock Holmes, of the Secret Service." ' 9 In this speech, 
not only does Fleming pat himself on the back (since he was a former opera- 
tive in British Intelligence), but he also articulates what, specifically, the Brit- 
ish offer the Western world — a heritage of justice and law. This heritage, or 
myth as Vozdvishensky terms it, is what the Soviets wish to destroy along with 
Bond, the agent of justice. Fleming thus polarizes his political novel along a 
moral spectrum of "good" and "evil," in the process creating a literature of 
propaganda. Standing in opposition to law and justice (British Intelligence) 
are the agents of cruelty, torture, and political chaos (Soviet Intelligence). 

Perhaps no other passage in the novel better summarizes Fleming's attempt 
to portray the evilness of the Soviet State than the following. In Chapter 3, the 
Head of Personnel of the Soviet M.G.B. expresses these thoughts: 

A great deal of killing has to be done in the U.S.S.R., not because 
the average Russian is a cruel man, although some of their races 
are among the crudest peoples in the world, but as an instrument 
of policy. People who act against the State are enemies of the 
State, and the State has no room for enemies. There is too much 
to do for precious time to be allotted to them, and, if they are a 


Gary Hoppenstand 

persistent nuisance, they get killed. In a country with a popula- 
tion of 200,000,000, you can kill many thousands a year without 
missing them. If, as happened in the two biggest purges, a million 
people have to be killed in one year, this is also not a grave loss. 20 

Fleming intends the monstrous brutality of this character's logic to reflect 
Western society's fear of Stalinist Russia. Fleming wants his reader to feel a 
strong sense of revulsion for the M.G.B. officer's attitude, which, his readers 
understand, is so alien to British and American sensitivities. 

In Chapter 24 of From Russia, with Love, Bond is traveling on the Orient 
Express and escorting the beautiful female Russian agent who (he believes) is 
defecting to the West with a much prized Spektor deciphering machine. As the 
train comes to a halt between lines of rusting locomotives captured from the 
Germans during World War II, Bond views the wreckage, thinking "nostalgi- 
cally and unreasonably of the excitement and turmoil of the hot war, compared 
with his own underground skirmishings since the war had turned cold." 2I James 
Bond, as this scene indicates, is a Cold Warrior who longs for the days of the 
Hot War. What Bond's creator attempts to accomplish in his spy fiction is to 
reestablish in the postwar world the moral contrasts that were so readily evi- 
dent during World War II. 

In From Russia, with Love, Fleming depicts the Cold War between the West- 
ern Democracies (especially British Democracy) and Eastern Communism 
(especially Soviet Communism) in overtly propagandistic terms. Fleming, in 
fact, devised an elaborate metaphor in the novel that exemplifies the evil So- 
viet empire. This metaphor was structured around the novel's three principal 
antagonists: Red Grant, SMERSH's chief assassin; Rosa Klebb, Head of Otdyel 
II (which is SMERSH's Department of Operations and Executions); and the 
Russian chess master, Kronsteen. These three villains — Grant, Klebb, and 
Kronsteen — are intended by Fleming to symbolize the corrupt "body" of the 
Soviet political state. 

Donovan "Red" Grant represents the physical body itself. He is described 
as the novel opens as looking like a dead man, an apt image since he is a top- 
ranking Soviet assassin who possesses no sense of moral conscience. Despite 
the magnificent appearance of his "splendid body," his masseuse experiences 
feelings of "revulsion" when she is in his presence. The reader is told that there 
is cruelty in his face, a "blankness that veiled the very pale blue eyes . . . and 
made it look drowned and morgue-like." 22 Grant, who was born from a "mid- 
night union between a German professional weight-lifter and a Southern Irish 
waitress" (Fleming's British readers would have perceived these two ethnicities 
negatively), decides to defect while serving in Berlin with the British army. 
Fleming writes: "He [Grant] liked all he heard about the Russians, their brutal- 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 

ity, their carelessness of human life, and their guile, and he decided to go over 
to them." 23 When he first introduces himself to a Soviet M.G.B. colonel, Grant 
proclaims that he is an expert at killing people, that he enjoys killing. After- 
wards, in a sort of reverse rags-to-riches story, Red Grant proves himself as a 
master assassin, becoming a top operative in SMERSH. Fleming intends Grant 
to be a "reverse" James Bond, a spy who has no morality whatsoever and who 
possesses no sense of style or grace. He is merely an effective butcher, em- 
blematic of the brutal Communist state that employs him. 

Rosa Klebb represents the degenerate Soviet soul. When the reader is intro- 
duced to Klebb, she is described as looking "toad-like." The reason she is in 
charge of Otdyel II is soon made obvious by Fleming. Just as Red Grant enjoys 
killing, Rosa Klebb enjoys torturing people. Fleming writes: 

It was said that Rosa Klebb would let no torturing take place with- 
out her. There was a blood-splattered smock in her office, and a 
low camp-stool, and they said that when she was seen scurrying 
through the basement passages dressed in the smock and with the 
stool in her hand, the word would go round, and even the workers 
in SMERSH would hush their words and bend low over their pa- 
pers — perhaps even cross their fingers in their pockets — until she 
was reported back in her room. 24 

Fleming's inference in this passage is that Klebb is a monster who, like Dracula, 
inspires a supernatural dread in others. Klebb, the reader is told, is a freak of 
Nature, a sexual "neuter" who displaces her sensual urges by torturing others. 
When the beautiful Corporal Tatiana Romanova is recruited by Klebb to be the 
bait to entrap James Bond, Klebb informs the young woman that she must do 
what she is told, that she must prostitute herself to the British spy. "Your body 
belongs to the State," Klebb proclaims. "Since your birth, the State has nour- 
ished it. Now your body must work for the State." 2S After Klebb manipulates 
Tatiana's sense of obligation to her government by talking to her of patriotism 
and duty to her country, the Head of Odytel II, in a horribly comic scene, 
attempts to physically seduce the naive Tatiana (Klebb "looked like the oldest 
and ugliest whore in the world" in her semi-transparent nightgown, Fleming 
writes), who subsequently flees for her life. Fleming's political message is 
clear. All that is beautiful in Russia is victimized by Soviet Communism. The 
common person, as seen in Tatiana, is made to do hideous and awful things in 
the name of the State. 

The third Communist villain in From Russia, with Love is Kronsteen, who 
represents the cold Soviet brain. Kronsteen is a brilliant strategist, a chess master 
who offers his considerable talents to his Soviet overlords. His assignment in 
the novel is to plan the operation that will both humiliate and destroy James 


Gary Hoppenstand 

Bond, and ultimately embarrass the British Intelligence community. Consis- 
tent with Fleming's hostile view of Soviet Communism, Kronsteen's selection 
by his superiors is an apt one, since Kronsteen is totally devoid of human emo- 
tion. Fleming writes: "Kronsteen was not interested in human beings — not 
even in his own children. Nor did the categories of 'good' and 'bad' have a 
place in his vocabulary. To him all people were chess pieces. He was only 
interested in their reactions to the movements of other pieces." 26 

Fleming sets James Bond, the hero of Western Democracy, as a foil or a 
contrast to this vile Communist triumvirate. Like Grant, Bond, too, is called 
upon to kill in the name of his government, but, unlike Grant, he does not 
enjoy killing. Bond also possesses something that Grant will never have, the 
qualities of an English gentleman. Toward the end of the novel, when Bond is 
escorting Tatiana on the Orient Express, he is joined by Grant, who is imper- 
sonating a fellow British operative named Norman Nash (Thinking the name 
to be a strange one, Tatiana informs Bond that Nash means "ours" in Russian). 
Bond views Grant/Nash as being somewhat boorish. Grant, in fact, lacks the 
style and grace of Bond, the public school gentleman. By inference, the Soviet 
government, Grant's employer, also lacks style and grace, especially in the 
espionage game. Grant's boss, Rosa Klebb, is sexually conflicted. The only 
passion she enjoys in life is the torture and death of others. Bond, conversely, 
is more of a lover than a killer. His sexual affair with Tatiana is a healthy one, 
and is only perverted when Tatiana's Soviet masters attempt to make it so. 
"There is not much fun and gaiety in Russia," Tatiana says to Bond, and so 
when Bond (the gentlemanly hedonist who embraces the finer things in life) 
becomes sexually and emotionally involved with her, Tatiana subsequently 
forsakes her Soviet lifestyle and becomes the happiest she has ever been. And, 
at the conclusion of the novel, when Bond kills Grant and defeats Kronsteen's 
elaborate scheme, he demonstrates that intellect without human emotion (i.e. 
Soviet intellectualism) is wasted intellect. 

Therefore if, as Bennett and Woollacott suggest In Bond and Beyond: The 
Political Career of a Popular Hero, it can be argued that James Bond was a 
symbol of the Cold War era representing Western-style Democracy in conflict 
with Eastern-style Communism, what were the specific qualities that Bond 
embodied? First and foremost, Bond is a British Public School hero. As An- 
thony Burgess suggests, "In Bond there is a powerful vein of puritanism and a 
capacity for self-disgust which denies the amorality of his murderous calling 
and its sensual compensations." 27 Bond also is a character who possesses nor- 
mal human emotions and a capacity to love. His counterparts in From Russia, 
with Love — Grant, Klebb, and Kronsteen — are emotional misfits and socio- 
pathic fiends. Finally, Bond is really not unlike the average person. Though he 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 

does possess a refined taste for wine, women, and song, his normality is often 
contrasted with an assortment of grotesque villains (right out of Dick Tracy or 
Batman) who revel in bizarre and inhumane excess and who attempt to destroy 
humanity. Fleming's point in From Russia, with Love is quite clear, his mes- 
sage an overtly political one. His treatment of the traditional literary arche- 
types of "good" and "evil" in the spy story resounds with a propagandistic 
motive that helped to fan the hot flames of a cold war. 

Indeed, as illustrated in the above discussion, James Bond functioned in 
Ian Fleming's popular spy fiction as a larger-than-life political hero who em- 
bodied the perceived virtues of Western democracies. The spy story (as refined 
by Fleming) offered its readers ideological support for the Western (read: non- 
Communist, non-Soviet) political worldview. An ideology is a belief system 
typically held by a group of people because of specific components that reflect 
that group's interests. 2!S The romanticized spy, such as James Bond, as a per- 
sonification of the virtues of post- World War II democracy, often represented 
during the Cold War period ideological victories at the expense of the "wicked" 
and "evil" Soviet Communists, hence legitimizing for readers the moral supe- 
riority of the former and the chaotically destructive nature of the latter. And by 
having a protagonist such as James Bond always emerge victorious, the spy 
story, as a powerful and effective form of propaganda, proclaimed to its Cold 
War-era readers that "good" will always triumph over "evil," Democracy will 
always triumph over Communism. 


' In American Fiction in the Cold War (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). Tho- 
mas Hill Schaub surveys the critical interpretation of the novel in his second chapter. 
"The Politics of Realism: Novelistic Discourse in the Postwar Period." Schaub traces 
the development of the various "schools" of social and cultural analysis of fiction that 
became fashionable with literary critics following World War II. Schaub notes that 
many of these critics viewed the production and reception of fiction in a political con- 
text. He writes in a footnote to this chapter: 

In Political Man (1960), Seymour Lipset wrote, "Since domestic politics can no 
longer serve as the arena for serious criticism from the left, many intellectuals have 
turned from a basic concern with the political and economic systems to criticism of 
other sections of the basic culture of American society" (quoted in Pells Liberal Mind 
185). For the literary intellectual, the "novel" was one of these other sections (29). 

: Anthony Burgess, "The James Bond Novels: An Introduction," in Ian Fleming. 
From Russia, with Love (Chivers Press, 1988), x. This brief yet informative essay nicely 
encapsulates the reasons behind James Bond's popularity with readers. 

? LeRoy L. Panek, for example, in his book, The Special Branch: The British Spy 
Novel, 1890-1980 (BGSU Popular Press, 1981). calls Ian Fleming a "minor writer" 


Gary Hoppenstand 

who "possessed only meager talents as a maker of plots" and who "fails to render more 
than cartoon reality in his characters" (p. 201). 

4 Burgess, vii. 

5 Umberto Eco's essay, "The Narrative Structure in Fleming," is published in an 
English translation in the anthology, The Bond Affair, eds. Oreste Del Buono and 
Umberto Eco (Macdonald, 1966). 

6 Kingsley Amis, The James Bond Dossier (Jonathan Cape. 1965), 9. 

7 Biographer Andrew Lycett states in Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond 
(Turner Publishing, 1995) that before Fleming's death in 1964, he had sold some 30 
million copies of his books (which were primarily his James Bond novels), and that in 
less than two years following his death, sales of his books had more than doubled. In 
1965 alone, Lycett reports, 27 million copies of Fleming's novels were sold in eighteen 
languages (p. 446). These impressive statistics rank Ian Fleming as the most popular 
writer of spy fiction in the 1960s. 

8 Donald McCormick and Katy Fletcher, Spy Fiction: A Connoisseur's Guide (Facts 
on File, 1990), 8. 

9 Ibid., 2. 

10 John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenburg, The Spy Story (University of Chicago 
Press, 1987), 5. John Cawelti is regarded by many scholars of popular culture as being 
the originator of the academic study of popular fiction. His book. Adventure, Mystery, 
and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (1976), remains a defini- 
tive study of the field. 

"Ibid., 2. 

12 John Pearson, The Life of Ian Fleming (Jonathan Cape, 1966), 96. 

I? Burgess, viii. 

14 Ann S. Boyd, The Devil with James Bond! (John Knox Press, 1967), 26. 

15 Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a 
Popular Hero (Macmillan Education, 1987), 24. 

16 Ibid., 25. 

17 Pearson, 321-323. 

18 In Propaganda: Its Psychology and Technique (Henry Holt, 1935) Leonard W. 
Doob defines the term "intentional propaganda" as "a systematic attempt by an inter- 
ested individual (or individuals) to control the attitudes of groups of individuals through 
the use of suggestion and, consequently, to control their actions." (75-76). 

19 Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love (Signet, 1964), 35. 

20 Ibid., 21-22. 

21 Ibid., 162. 

22 Ibid., 11. 

23 Ibid., 17 


Popular Fiction as Propaganda: Cold War Ideology in Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love 

24 Ibid., 57. 

25 Ibid., 64. 
26 Ibid., 49 

27 Burgess, vii. 

28 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A 
Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Anchor Books, 1966), 124. 


AMERIKA, The Miniseries: 
Televison's Last Cold War Gasp 

Jerry Rodnitzky 
University of Texas at Arlington 

When did the "hard-freeze" Cold War end? Every historian and political 
scientist has a patented answer. Some say when President John Kennedy opened 
the door to a kinder, gentler Cold War in his 1960 inaugural address ("Let us 
never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate"). Others say in 
1964, when Stanley Kubrick filmed his darkly satiric Cold War spoof, Dr. 
Strangelove ("You gentlemen can't fight in here. This is the War Room"). Still 
others argue that the Cold War melted when American youth rebelled against 
the Vietnam conflict in the mid-1960s. Vietnam protests occurred at the same 
time that many communist youth in Eastern Europe were vomiting on their 
diet of Cold War rhetoric and began lusting for Levi jeans and hard rock mu- 
sic. 1 

I cannot decide when the Cold War softened, but I do know when it tempo- 
rarily froze network television. It was Sunday evening, February 15, 1987, 
when ABC launched its fourteen-hour miniseries, Amerika. The television com- 
petition rather gave up. Neither NBC nor CBS made an effort to challenge 
Amerika with innovative programs. They either ignored Amerika or criticized 
it. For example, in preview ads which promoted its Sunday Night Movie, The 
Facts of Life Down Under, NBC suggested that Amerika was too dark and 
depressing for the average American television viewer. The rest of the first 
week Amerika ran against average film fare, such as Police Academy, Bach- 
elor Party, Swamp Thing, Barbarella and Bloody Mama. Its only real network 
competition was the Miss USA Pageant. 2 The Pageant was anything but dark 
and depressing, yet it hardly stretched minds or imaginations. Amerika exer- 
cised both. 

Amerika was a bold, exciting venture for television. And although Amerika 
often failed in execution, ABC should get credit for taking a commercial and 
ideological gamble. Amerika merged science fiction, history and world poli- 
tics. The result was a genre too far. It never bridged the gap between those 
categories. As science fiction, it was too historical. As history, it was too far 
out and stretched credulity. As world politics, it was ill-timed. Just as the So- 
viet Union was falling apart at home and abroad, Amerika gave the Soviets the 
Cold War victory. 3 


AMERIKA, The Miniseries: Television's Last Cold War Gasp 

On one level Amerika's plot was too simplistic. Like Edward Bellamy's 
1888 political science fiction novel Looking Backward, Amerika whisks us 
into an improbable future, without really explaining how America got from 
here to there. Bellamy moved the reader from 1888 to a supposedly Utopian 
socialist America in the year 2000. Amerika takes us only to the late 1980s, 
when a politically and economically troubled Soviet Union suddenly attacks 
and conquers the United States in a wild gamble to solve the many Soviet 
woes. It succeeds with a high altitude nuclear attack that kills nobody, but 
disables American computer and communication systems. American missiles 
lay useless in their silos because there are no computers to fire or aim them. 
American armies stand helpless because there are no communication systems 
to order and direct their movements. Perhaps this far-fetched scenario is some- 
what more credible as we approach the new millennium, amid the current Y2K 
computer hysteria. 

A film prologue quickly gives viewers a short history of the Soviet con- 
quest and then Amerika'?, central story begins. The film focuses on America 
under Soviet occupation. More specifically it shows various American responses 
to Soviet attempts to make America a model Marxist state for world contem- 
plation. The plot centers on three men — Devin Milford, Peter Bradford and 
Andrei Denisov — each of whom fights for his vision of the New America. 
Milford, once an American presidential candidate, defies the regime as a ren- 
egade political leader and becomes a symbol of resistance. Bradford is a ca- 
pable pragmatist, honestly devoted to compromising with the new political 
conditions. Denisov, an ex-KGB colonel, is the most interesting and compli- 
cated character. He learns to love America for unique traits that Americans 
themselves had taken for granted. Amerika is a political film that vaguely tells 
us about the American spirit. Its ironies are always more interesting than its 
messages or plot. 4 

Red Dawn, a 1984 theater-released film, had a similar scenario of Soviet 
conquest, but it was clearly camp and not to be taken seriously. Indeed, pro- 
ducers probably visualized Amerika as the intelligent viewer's Red Dawn. There 
were some obvious differences between the two films, besides Amerika'?, addi- 
tional twelve hours. Red Dawn wasted a rather famous cast which included 
Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Booth. Moreover, three of its 
younger stars — Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey — were im- 
mature actors, not close to their later peaks. Red Dawn 's director, John Milius, 
played the Soviet invasion and control of part of the United States much too 
heavily. Not only did his characters (both heroes and villains) lack subtlety, but 
he constantly relied on violence to keep the plot moving. 

In contrast Amerika had no really big stars, but effectively used some com- 
petent actors, such as Sam Neill, Chrtistine Lahti, Robert Urich, Mariel 


Jerry Rodnitzky 

Hemingway and Cindy Pickett. Unfortunately, it also miscast and misdirected 
Kris Kristofferson. Director Donald Wrye, whose previous television films 
were Death Be Not Proud and Bom Innocent (both small-set dramas), wisely 
de-emphasized firepower and stressed ideas and images in portraying the So- 
viet takeover. His characters often have long exchanges and even sex takes a 
back seat. Several scenes are impossibly long by Hollywood (let alone televi- 
sion) standards. The film spends a lot of time observing the faces of ordinary 
Americans under occupation. Logically enough, it spends more time looking 
at the film's hero, Devin Milford (Kris Kristofferson), than anyone. Kristofferson 
is the biggest disappointment. He generally had played laid-back characters 
(often with distinction) in his past films, but his acting is lackadaisical here 
and he mumbles a lot. Luckily he has fewer lines per scene than the other 
better-cast actors. 5 

Amerika obviously plays loosely with history, but current history constantly 
intruded on both its production and viewing. Some critics suggested that 
Amerika was atonement for ABC's grim nuclear disaster film, The Day After, 
broadcast in 1983. Supposedly TV critic Ben Stein suggested in his column 
that ABC should make a film about an America under Soviet domination to 
balance the liberal bias displayed in The Day After. In any event Brandon 
Stoddard, the head of ABC movie production, hired Wrye to work up an occu- 
pation premise. At first, it was projected as a three-hour television movie. But 
Wrye's screenplay grew to over 1300 pages, before being pared to about 600, 
which became the basis for the fourteen-hour film. 

Perhaps Amerika's eeriest aspect was its merging of past and future Ameri- 
can military failure and success in Vietnam and Iraq. Defeating America by 
crippling its communication networks was not just science fiction. The United 
States would quickly defeat Iraq and Saddam Hussein just three years later 
with basically the same strategy, but minus the nuclear weapons. Earlier the 
Vietnam War had proved how important communication networks were. Ameri- 
can planes in Vietnam were not as successful as those in the Korean War, de- 
spite their greater technical superiority. In Vietnam the planes depended on 
sophisticated computer networks, so complicated that they often did not work 
under actual battle conditions. Unlike Iraq, neither Vietnam nor Afghanistan 
depended on communication networks and were thus less vulnerable to air 
power than America or the Soviets. 

The fictional Soviet atomic blasts in Amerika supposedly caused no casu- 
alties or radioactive fallout. However, the actual miniseries caused political 
fallout on all sides, in some cases before its airing. The Soviet Union predict- 
ably attacked the film as Red-bashing, while American conservatives later com- 
plained that the Soviet occupation was not portrayed harshly enough. Some 
liberals charged that Amerika vastly oversimplified the Cold War by making 


AMERIKA, The Miniseries: Television's Last Cold War Gasp 

the Soviets formulaic villains and the Americans classic heroes and thus con- 
stituted warmongering. The United Nations complained about the film's im- 
age of United Nations peacekeepers as irrelevant and ineffective. 6 

The international and ideological bickering made sponsors nervous. For 
example, just two weeks before airing, Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee 
Iaococo pulled all thirty-six of Chrysler's planned thirty-second commercials 
from Amerika time slots. Chrysler's official statement explained that their au- 
tomobile ads with the upbeat theme "born in America" would be "both inap- 
propriate and of diminished effectiveness," given Amerika's grim content. Al- 
though giant General Foods Corporation and Northwestern Mutual Life Insur- 
ance Company kept their heavy ad commitments, ABC was forced to cut its 
original $175,000 fee for a thirty-second spot. 7 

ABC's commercial troubles highlighted the chief difference between theat- 
rical and television films. Television fare had to approximate the mood and 
morality of middle America, because that's who the sponsors aimed for. The- 
ater films later shown on television could be edited. Television films must be 
edited in advance to please sponsors. Chrysler had been showcasing their Jeeps 
in ads to stress their patriotism, since Jeeps were a vivid symbol of America's 
most popular war — World War II. The veiled suggestion was that Americans 
should be patriotic too and buy American cars. When Chrysler saw that Amerika 
suggested that even with modern Jeeps, America had been defeated, the auto 
company drove off. Yet one television sponsor's poison is another sponsor's 
meat. General Foods probably thought the scarcity so evident in Amerika helped 
viewers appreciate its products. Northwest Mutual Insurance surely liked the 
suggestion that it was an uncertain world where anything could happen. It all 
harkened back to television's youth, when tobacco companies could insist that 
characters in dramatic shows smoke, but never cough, on screen. In those days 
General Motors could supposedly insist that the phrase "fording a stream" be 
stricken from a Western sitcom that the company sponsored. 8 

Of course ABC might have been trying to please the Reagan Administra- 
tion, rather than sponsors. The network could have been making amends to a 
popular conservative President in a new age of nationalism. For as media critic 
Daniel Hallin observed, in 1986 Reaganism's effect on television was not so 
much an ideological conservatism as a new-style jingoism. Reagan made popu- 
lar a "We're Number One" nationalism that encouraged news networks to 
shift away from political partisanship toward patriotic celebration. Television 
balanced its liberal image by taking part in that celebration. It largely adopted 
the Reagan theme: "America Is Back." 9 

At first glance, showing an America under the thumb of the Soviet Union 
does not fit in with Reagan's "we're back and we're number one" boasting. 
Yet, as science fiction Amerika could serve as the other side of Reagan's new 


Jerry Rodnitzky 

patriotism campaign. Between the lines, one can see the Amerika scenario as a 
possible disaster outcome, if not for America's new vigilance and resolve un- 
der Reagan (and his plan for a Star Wars shield above us). Amerika created a 
fictional evil empire and gave it the mythical power that President Reagan 
never could. The weaker the Soviets became, the more evil the cold warriors 
had to make them seem in order to justify America's huge defense budgets. 
Indeed, the Soviet Union's recent weakness did the most damage to Amerika 's 
credibility. Who could believe the Soviets could control America when they 
recently had been pushed out of little Afghanistan? 

Thus, Amerika did provide a backdoor rationale and justification for Reagan's 
Cold War policies and rhetoric. Yet, even if Amerika was produced as a net- 
work peace offering to President Reagan, on another level it contained educa- 
tive Cold War ironies and contradictions. It even highlights classic American 
contradictions. And if Amerika 's production was weak, its bold plot reminded 
one of Ira Levin's best fantasies, such as The Stepford Wives (about robotic 
suburban soccer moms) and The Boys From Brazil (about teenage American 
Hitler clones). 10 

Advance complaints from the Left suggested that Amerika lay halfway be- 
tween Red Dawn and Rambo. But Amerika really played about halfway be- 
tween George Orwell's 1984 and Little Town on the Prairie. The little town in 
Amerika was Milford, Nebraska. Milford was a typical microcosm, much fa- 
vored by American novelists and cinematographers. In its uncomplicated 
milieu, one could isolate moral issues. Milford reminds one of the Texas town 
in Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show — only Milford is featured as the 
last American town. 

Clearly Amerika is allegorical and not really about Soviet occupation. There 
is amazingly little to reinforce negative Russian stereotypes. The evil Major 
Gurtman is German, while his soldiers, with their tinted face shields, look 
more like imperial troops of the Star Wars empire. Sam Neill, who plays the 
Machiavellian Russian strategist Colonel Denisov, comes across more as an 
American playboy than a Soviet bureaucrat. His character suggests that Orwell's 
Big Brother isn't watching, he's too busy scrambling for personal position and 
advantage. Besides, he looks disturbingly like the ABC newsman Sam 

Moreover, Denisov is positively emotional compared to the American hero, 
Devin Milford. Actor Kris Kristofferson delivers most of Devin's lines with all 
the emotion of a toll booth attendant. Yet Kristofferson remains strangely he- 
roic. He often comes across as a laconic Gary Cooper cowboy hero — miracu- 
lously brought from the nineteenth-century American West to modern-day 
Milford. Denisov believes that if he can only understand Devin, he can under- 
stand America. Similarly, to comprehend Amerika each viewer must analyze 


AMERIKA, The Miniseries: Television's Last Cold War Gasp 

Devin and decide what he represents. But obviously liberals, conservatives, 
radicals, and moderates will see him differently. 

Devin Milford probably warmed the hearts of the Left far more than the 
Right. It's not just his bearded scruffy look, so reminiscent of 1960s agitators. 
He actually chants like Abbie Hoffman and dreams like Martin Luther King. 
Radical 1960s slogans such as "Power to the People," "Right On," and "Shut It 
Down," never actually spring from Devin's lips, but they seem always on the 
tip of his tongue. The actions Devin inspires should have shaken up conserva- 
tives even more. The armed American rebels hit and run like the Viet Cong. 
And the underground resisters who help Kristofferson are disproportionately 
minority groups — especially black Americans — who symbolically move Devin 
around on an "underground railroad." Even in the conservative small town of 
Milford, the residents protest and defy authority like seasoned sixties demon- 

By contrast, the "Amerikan" bureaucrat Peter Bradford (Robert Urich), who 
works through the system, comes across as a crass politician and organization 
man. His compromises eventually even alienate his wife (Cindy Pickett) and 
most of Milford. Compared to Devin's simple, radical views, Bradford's tortu- 
ous rationales make him a timid pawn of the town rather than a courageous 
prince of the country. Bradford and other pedestrian collaborators constantly 
ask people to be realistic and accept history's verdict on the American-Soviet 

The story development is so slow, the cinematography so uninspiring and 
the acting so uneven, that it is hard to take Amerika seriously as cinematic art. 
It offers more as Cold War mythology and as an ideological focus. Indeed 
ABC probably realized early on that it had a turkey on its hands, and thus tried 
to build an audience with hype. Perhaps ABC promoters reasoned that if they 
could goad the Soviets into attacking Amerika as warmongering and induce 
the American Left to knock the film as a right-wing nightmare, middle America 
would be all eyes and ears. 

The subtle ironies prove to be the most entertaining aspect of Amerika. For 
example, if conservatives could not identify with Kristofferson, at least some 
aspects of "Amerikan" society should have pleased them. There was little crime, 
no teenage cruising, no punk rock music, and no welfare scandals. Also, pre- 
sumably the trains and planes ran on time. 

Yet, poor exiled squatters living outside Milford remained despised and 
ignored until Soviet mercenaries overreacted and wiped out their shanty town. 
Only then did Milford residents quickly befriend these outcasts and identify 
with them. These actions teach both the Soviets and the television audience 
that only Americans are allowed to mistreat poor Americans. Indeed 1980s 
Amerika looked eerily like 1930s Depression America. One constantly expected 


Jerry Rodnitzky 

to see the Waltons in the next scene. Poverty-stricken contemporary Ameri- 
cans may infer that if they can only get some dictator to oppress them, their 
affluent countrymen will spring to their aid. This phenomenon had a long Cold 
War history. Americans did not seem to care much about Koreans, Cubans, or 
the Vietnamese until the "Communists" started threatening them. 

In one sense, Amerika spoke to the fears of both the American Right and 
Left. Pessimists on both sides of the spectrum fear a dictatorial takeover by 
extremists of the opposite ideological camp. Both Left and Right often fear 
that a totalitarian government could take power and an apathetic American 
people would just go on watching television — perhaps even a fourteen-hour 
miniseries on the overthrow of the government. 

Amerika does tell us that it is heroic to resist arbitrary power. More impor- 
tantly, both history and Amerika show that people apparently without power 
can create it by joining together to challenge a corrupt government. This is 
Amerika 's real lesson and why activists such as Ralph Nader probably would 
have enjoyed this film more than politicians, Right or Left. Amerika shows us 
general inhumanity, but tells us little about the Soviets. However, it does en- 
lighten us indirectly about the Cold War and American apathy. The villain 
here is the crude and unfeeling bureaucratic state. It has no real national flag. 
As a warning, Amerika tells Americans what Pogo told us: "We have met the 
enemy and they is us." That is clearly a message beyond Left and Right. 

For all the pre-show hype, Amerika was a ratings disaster, even while run- 
ning against generally weak competition. Amerika opened on Sunday night 
with a 34 share, but its ratings declined throughout its run. On the third night, 
"The Miss USA Pageant" solidly trounced it, head to head, with a 34 share to 
Amerika's 26." It is hard to pinpoint why Amerika failed to attract a larger 
audience. Many even less artistic miniseries did much better. Indeed, most 
successful miniseries have been syrupy romance novels or gory, true-crime 
murder cases. Yet, Roots and later War and Rembrance proved that Americans 
would watch very long, serious miniseries with an historical focus — especially 
if they were well-acted. Neither of the latter, however, risked the political 
minefields, nor took the fanciful flight of Amerika. 

Amerika with all its flaws remains a model for television boldness. Who 
knows what Oliver Stone (or a right-wing counterpart) could do with a televi- 
sion miniseries, if given the chance. Hollywood took almost two decades after 
its Cold War un-American activities cleansing to regain the nerve to make bold 
political movies. Television cinema is still somewhat behind a political iron 


AMERIKA, The Miniseries: Television's Last Cold War Gasp 


1 For the view that John F. Kennedy softened the Cold War, see, for example, Arthur 
M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days ( Boston, 1965), pp. 298-319. For the view that 
breakthrough films such as Dr. Strangelove both caused and reflected a melting Cold 
War, see "Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of Liberal 
Consensus," in Peter Rollins, ed., Hollywood As Historian (Lexington, Kentucky, 1983), 
pp. 190-210. For the view that youthful protesters (both East and West) warmed the 
Cold War, see Marjorie Hope, Youth Against the World (Boston, 1970). 

2 EdBmk, "Amerika "Dallas Morning News, February 15, 1987, section C, pp. 1,1 5. 

3 General Note: There has been little written about Amerika and the film will not 
likely be available on video, or as a television re-run, because of both its length and 
archaic historical focus. The novelized screenplay is the one standard source and thus 
this film seems destined to be only an interesting relic of the Cold War. However, like 
The Smothers Brothers show in the 1960s, Amerika demonstrates some of television's 
unique problems when dealing with politically sensitive material. 

4 Brauna E. Pouns, Amerika (New York, 1987). Since there is still no commercial 
video of Amerika the miniseries, this 412 page novelization of Donald Wrye's screen- 
play is the only guide to Amerika readily available. It provides the plot and dialogue, 
but loses much of the film's mood. 

5 See Pouns, Amerika, for characteristic convoluted dialogue. For example, see pp. 

(1 The United Nations complaint about Amerika was reported in an AP story in the 
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 17, 1998, p. 6. 

7 Richard Zoglin, "Amerika the Controversial," Time, February 9, 1987, p. 73. 

s For examples of how television sponsors had censored content during the 1950s 
and 1 960s, see Les Brown, Television: The Business Behind the Box (New York, 1 97 1 ), 
pp. 98-102. 

9 Daniel C. Hallin, "We Keep America On Top of the World," in Todd Gitlin, editor, 
Watching Television (New York, 1986), pp. 35-38. 

10 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 17, 1998, p. 6. 

" A.C. Nielsen ratings reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 19,1987, 
p. 8. 


Dangerous Superpowers: 

Comic Book Heroes and American 

Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

John Ott 

University of California at Los Angeles 

After the first hydrogen bomb was detonated on the Eniwetok Atoll in the 
Pacific on November 1, 1952, atomic physicist Edward Teller, the proud "fa- 
ther" of atomic fusion, informed his colleagues at Los Alamos of the project's 
success with the statement, "it's a boy." 1 This curious birth announcement 
(who, then, was the mother?) indicates the prevalent rhetorical coupling of 
atomic energy with American male (hetero)sexuality. For those outside the 
inner circle of nuclear scientists, ubiquitous images of phallic bombs, missile 
silos and "atom-smashers" in the mainstream press underlined this connection 
and intimated their alternately generative and destructive potential. Despite 
the U.S. government's attempts to make nuclear power palatable for the na- 
tion, the public's concerns mounted, peaking after the April 1954 broadcast of 
the Operation IVY film (which showed the effects of the fusion blast), and 
again in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2 

Around the same time, the 1948 publication of the Kinsey report on male 
sexuality, whose impact Newsweek compared to that of an atomic bomb, 3 threat- 
ened to throw dominant codes of American manhood into contestation. With a 
remarkable publishing run of a quarter of a million copies, the report placed 
sex and sexuality under wide public scrutiny and revealed that most boys were 
sexually active by age fifteen and that the incidence of male homoeroticism 
was far greater than anyone had anticipated. 4 

Forced to reckon with these twinned social crises, many boys would have 
turned to the one visual medium they could truly call their own: the comic 
book. This paper will examine the superheroes of the so-called Silver Age of 
comics (roughly 1956-1966) 5 to suggest how this genre both embodied and 
helped its audience come to terms with anxiety over nuclear technology and 
American masculinity, two social phenomena often conflated in their expres- 
sion. Thus while superpower denotes extraordinary individual physical prow- 
ess and stamina, it also connotes those nations of the Cold War era with vast 
nuclear stockpiles, as well as the presumed sexual potency of manhood. By 
and large, I will confine my discussion to the heterosexual reading strategies 
of enthusiasts of Silver Age superheroes. This audience's gay male constitu- 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

ency, as Andy Medhurst notes, could have undertaken a discrete set of cultural 
negotiations, a type of reading against or in spite of the hegemonic discourses 
on the superhero that I wish to foreground. 6 

In part, then, this paper scrutinizes the processes by which a readership 
defines and is defined by a text through visual and narrative tropes particular to 
that text. Here I follow the lead of a number of cultural critics who have nu- 
anced Laura Mulvey's classic model of a male spectator's psychic alignment 
with a (in her case, filmic) protagonist. Writing about Clint Eastwood's cin- 
ematic persona, Paul Smith asserts that: 

an orthodox critique of the male heroes in these kinds of popular 
culture narratives would say that they actually present too easy 
and transcendent a solution to contradiction [of the male subject]: 
my claim is that, to the contrary, the resolutions and solutions 
really never come. ... the narrative disposition of particular tropes 
of masculinity does not ultimately control or delimit them, and 
leaves unmanaged and resistant representations of male hyste- 
ria. 7 

I would add that a historically situated subculture of viewers, such as adoles- 
cent comic readers in the early sixties, are not only specifically interpolated by 
a text but may have cause for identifying with this position of male hysteria. In 
fact, the very narrative structure of comic books prohibits the successful recu- 
peration of a male ego ideal: like soap operas, comics are serial in nature and 
perpetually suspend certain types of closure or resolution common, say, to film 
or the novel. 

This approach challenges the conventional wisdom about what readers de- 
sire in comics - that, for example, Superman embodies an ego ideal through 
which all male readers can perform dominant masculinity. Umberto Eco, for 
one, contends that: 

Clark Kent personifies fairly typically the average reader who is 
harassed by complexes and despised by his fellow men: through 
an obvious process of self-identification, any accountant in any 
American city secretly feels the hope that one day, from the slough 
of his actual personality, there can spring forth a superman who is 
capable of redeeming years of mediocre existence. 8 

I would argue, however, that this process of identification on the part of a male 
reader is not so "obvious," particularly since both the ideal and actual reader- 
ship of Superman are not harried accountants but male adolescents who psy- 
chically engage the protagonist in contradictory ways and for historically spe- 
cific reasons. Silver Age heroes, as I hope to demonstrate, further deter any 
facile, unmediated self-identifications with masculinist hegemony. 


John Ott 

The tradition of embedding male (hetero)sexuality within superpower he- 
roes dates back to the so-called Golden Age of comic books (1938-1953). I 
will briefly examine the first and most popular of these heroes, Superman, in 
order to dramatize the notable shifts that occur during the Silver Age. Comic 
narrative repeatedly performs the vacillation between hero and plainsclothesman 
as metaphoric for the transition between man and boy; Superman's genesis 
typifies the equivalence of the endowment of superpowers with the incipience 
of male puberty. As even the most casual reader of comic books knows, Super- 
man is a cosmic orphan who had been rocketed into space by his scientist 
father just as his home planet of Krypton exploded in a fiery apocalypse. The 
son's burgeoning (albeit sublimated) sexuality, represented both by Superman's 
careening, phallic spaceship and his formidable superhuman abilities, stem 
from or are predicated upon the death of his parents. 

Moreover, Superman's masquerade as Clark Kent speaks directly to the 
anxieties of male adolescents, who quite literally are sexually active men trapped 
in boys' bodies. In the pages of Superman, the secret, inner manhood of Clark 
Kent (and of the readers) takes tangible form, and the often painful change 
from child to adult occurs not over the span of years but in a matter of seconds, 
a "quick change" in a telephone booth. 

Yet the productive splitting of boy/man through secret identity also serves 
as an apology for a young reader's inability to realize his sexuality. Cartoonist 
Jules Feiffer has observed: 

The particular brilliance of Superman lay not only in the fact that 
he was the first of the Superheroes (June 1938), but in the concept 
of his alter ego. . . Remember, [Clark] Kent was not Superman's 
true identity as Bruce Wayne was the Batman's ... Superman had 
only to wake up in the morning to be Superman. In his case, Clark 
Kent was the put on. The fellow with the eyeglasses and the acne 
and the walk girls laughed at wasn't real, didn't exist, was a sac- 
rificial disguise, an act of discreet martyrdom. Had they but 
known! 9 

Thus, the bizarre love triangle of Superman-Lois Lane-Clark Kent, in which 
Lois pursues the Kryptonite "Superhero" but scorns the platitudes of Clark, 
valorizes and ennobles a heterosexual adolescent's difficulties with the oppo- 
site sex. 10 It could only be for the readers' benefit that Superman/ Clark Kent 
refrained from consummating his (rather masochistic) love for Lois. 

These early superheroes' success in acknowledging and fulfilling their 
audience's desires precipitated a dramatic increase in sales. While in 1940 only 
3.7 million comic books were purchased per month, comics' popularity peaked 
in 1952 with a monthly circulation of nearly sixty million." The comics mar- 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

ket, however, contracted as quickly as it had expanded; Fredric Wertham's 
book Seduction of the Innocent, published the following year, played a central 
role in marginalizing the act of comic reading. 12 As senior psychologist for 
the New York Department of Hospitals, Wertham's studies of psychologically 
troubled urban youth led him to believe that comics, and especially the horror 
and superhero genres, were the primary determinant for the rising tide of juve- 
nile delinquency in America. His findings were widely challenged within his 
field, but a more popular audience of Cold War Americans, inured to jingoistic 
scapegoating, eagerly jumped on the anti-comic bandwagon. 

Wertham charged that comics were too violent, sadistic, and erotic, fos- 
tered illiteracy, and provided dangerous behavioral examples for impression- 
able youth. In one of his most often-cited passages, Wertham declared, based 
on the testimonials of young homosexual subjects, that Batman and Robin 
shared a homoerotic relationship that exerted a corrupting influence on young 
boys. 13 As a result of Wertham's crusade, the Comics Code, similar in spirit to 
earlier prescriptions for the film industry, was installed to ensure "wholesome" 
material. Not surprisingly, Batwoman (1956) and Batgirl (1961) were intro- 
duced to the Batman title, perhaps to encourage more "family-oriented" ad- 
ventures, or perhaps to secure the dynamic duo's heterosexuality. Wertham's 
book, together with the widespread proliferation of television in American 
homes, combined to submerge comic books in a Dark Age or, rather, an inter- 
regnum between the Golden and Silver Ages. 14 

Meanwhile, the constituency of comic book readers was undergoing a no- 
table shift in the late fifties and sixties. While pre-war comic books found 
nearly equal support from young boys and girls, the Silver Age audience was 
increasingly male. In addition, many fans, carried over from the Golden Age, 
were now in their late teens, twenties and even beyond. 15 The appearance of 
letter pages in the more popular titles signaled the growth of a serious fan base, 
who, while still a minority, fell largely within this older age group. At the same 
time, professional comic writers and artists were beginning to emerge directly 
out of the corps of devoted fans. Stan Lee, who would become the central 
creative force of the Silver Age, was one of the first fans-turned-comic writers, 
as was Jim Shooter, who began writing professionally at the age of thirteen 
and became editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics by twenty-five. 16 Weaned on 
Golden Age fare, Lee and Shooter knew from experience exactly what adoles- 
cent readers desired from their superheroes. 

The Silver Age is said to have begun with Marvel Comics' writer Stan Lee 
and artist Jack Kirby, who more adequately addressed the changes in technol- 
ogy and gender construction in postwar America. Marvel was something of a 
nameless entity in 1961 when it launched its first costumed crime-fighters, the 
Fantastic Four . I7 In a covert and hasty attempt to beat the "reds" to the moon, 


John Ott 

scientist Reed Richards, his fiancee Sue Storm, her teenage brother Johnny, 
and Richards' old college roommate, the fighter pilot Ben Grimm, are inad- 
vertently exposed to "cosmic rays". I8 After a miraculous crash-landing, the 
foursome realize they have acquired strange abilities and re-christen them- 
selves, respectively, Mr. Fantastic, who can stretch and contort his elastic body 
like rubber; Invisible Girl, who is able to project invisible force-fields and 
make herself disappear; The Human Torch, who can bathe himself in flame, 
shoot fireballs, and fly; and The Thing, whose body becomes encrusted with a 
layer of craggy orange rock, and who possesses superhuman strength. If the 
Fantastic Four's powers were rather unremarkable (Mr. Fantastic and The Hu- 
man Torch's abilities were essentially lifted from popular Golden Age heroes), 
the group's dynamics and personalities were novel for the genre. Here were 
heroes who never concealed their identities, frequently bickered amongst them- 
selves, and, breaking the pattern of unrequited super-romance, were even en- 
gaged to be married. 

Buoyed by this initial success, Lee stuck to what Will Jacobs and Gerard 
Jones have termed his "flawed hero formula" 19 and unleashed a salvo of titles. 
The Hulk (May 1962) featured a Jekyll- and-Hyde plot in which meek Dr. 
Bruce Banner, after being irradiated with gamma radiation, is transformed in 
moments of stress into a raging, green-skinned, Frankensteinesque brute. 20 
Thor (August 1962) showcased the god of thunder, brought to life by Donald 
Blake, a crippled doctor who discovers a staff in a hidden cave which periodi- 
cally transforms him into the Norse deity and itself into Thor's "mystic ham- 
mer." Spiderman (March 1963) came into being when teen "egghead" Peter 
Parker was bitten by a spider accidently blasted with radiation at a science 
exhibit, endowing Parker with the powers of an arachnid. And The X-Men (Sep- 
tember 1963), a group of five teenage "mutants" with various powers, were led 
by wheelchair-bound mutant telepath Professor Charles Xavier. 

Lee's gallery of disabled or tragic figures, monsters and misfits were whole- 
heartedly embraced by the comic-reading public, with Spiderman swiftly emerg- 
ing as the most popular of Lee's troubled heroes. Lee had always been dis- 
gusted with the Golden Age's pesky boy sidekicks and consequently provided 
his readers with a comic in which a teenager, Peter Parker, was the central 
focus. 21 In his origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15, Parker, "far from being 
the biggest man on campus," is depicted as a "bookworm" pampered by his his 
doting guardians, Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Rebuked by the in-crowd at Mid- 
town High, the embittered Parker swears vengeance: "Some day I'll show them! 
Some day they'll be sorry!" 22 But when he discovers his brush with radioac- 
tivity has endowed him with strength and agility proportionate to that of a 
spider, Parker at first only uses his powers to win cash prizes and make appear- 
ances on television. An unwilling hero, Parker is plagued not only with the 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

usual parade of colorfully sinister villains, but with more mundane problems 
as well, among them financial troubles, a foul-tempered boss and an elderly 
aunt who hovers in and out of illness. 

As Lee boasted in a later reminiscence, the name of Marvel's flagship su- 
perhero intentionally alluded to the paragon of the Golden Age, Superman; 23 
the analogy signaled both Lee's deferential admiration for pre-war heroes and 
his deconstruction of them. Spiderman, "the hero who could be you," 24 ac- 
commodated reader identification with his litany of angst-inducing adolescent 
travails. When Esquire revealed in September 1965 that even college students 
had taken to the Marvel title, it was a clear sign that Lee had successfully 
targeted both the mass of younger readers and the older, dedicated fans. 25 
Marvel was relentless in the cultivation of its fan base, forming clubs and soci- 
eties, soliciting fan mail, and exploiting these letters as valuable feedback that 
would determine the direction of a given title. Lee's real talent, it was clear, lay 
in making his readers feel invested in the Marvel project. He even portrayed 
his heroes in the act of reading comics, as if to dramatize further the equiva- 
lence between fan and hero. 26 In response, other, older comic houses attempted 
to humanize their stockpile of heroes; for example, Superman's vulnerability 
to kryptonite, a metal indigenous only to his home planet, was increasingly 

Male adolescents, who might have seen themselves and their changing bodies 
as grotesque and monstrous, could better relate to the new brand of superhero. 
Mr. Fantastic's elastic contortions, the Hulk's sudden and uncontrollable meta- 
bolic changes, and The Thing's odd and unsightly protrusions spoke to a young 
man's anxiety over unpredictable hormonal changes that brought growth spurts, 
the development of body hair and odor, and acne. Heroes who are not always 
in control of their powers, such as the Hulk, mirrored adolescents' inability to 
master or regulate their own sexuality, as manifest in wet dreams and sudden 
shifts in voice range. Comic advertisements that preyed on a reader's self- 
consciousness, such as Charles Atlas' promises of a "manly" physique or ads 
for acne creams, reinforced these youthful apprehensions, as even Wertham 
understood. 27 

More importantly, the Marvel protagonists heighten and problematize the 
split between boy and man. Marvel's green-colored monster vacillates wildly 
between the enormous, childish Hulk and a skinny but intelligent Dr. Banner. 
In the same way, the crippled Dr. Blake shifts in and out of his identity as the 
strapping supernatural, Thor, whose phallic totem metamorphosizes from a 
withered cane into a rock-hard, potent hammer when struck on the ground. 2s 
In essence, Lee renders the "boy" side of the hero unusually helpless while 
depicting the "man" aspect as excessively or monstrously virile. Unlike 
Superman's easy transition in a telephone booth, the Marvel heroes' slippage 


John Ott 

between powerless weaklings and empowered gargantuans induces a troubled, 
almost schizophrenic self-loathing. In the first issue of The Hulk, when he 
confronts a picture of his alter- ego, the Hulk is stricken with revulsion and 
terror peculiar for a peerless titan: "it is weak - soft! I hate it! Take it away!" 
The otherwise dauntless Hulk recoils from the specter of his own impotence. 29 

As in the Golden Age, the endowment of Silver Age superpowers (the mo- 
ment of male pubescence) coincides with personal tragedy, but here the mo- 
ment of horror is reflected back onto the protagonist: The Thing, for example, 
is simultaneously disfigured and enabled. Whereas pre-war comic books sub- 
limated these destructive urges by jumping quickly from boyhood to manhood 
in the narrative, the Silver Age hero's malaise - the dark side of his sexuality - 
is foregrounded and made constitutional to his abilities. 

In the same way, a hero's potency interferes with mature (hetero)sexual 
relationships, but here unfulfilled sexuality is not excused by a necessarily 
productive and strategic dual identity, as with Superman. In the Silver Age, the 
superpower itself becomes the obstacle that precludes intimacy with women. 
As Peter Parker reveals in Spiderman #72 , "in order to function as Spider- 
man, poor Peter Parker has to take off whenever he's needed! So how can 
Gwen [his girlfriend] help but think of me as a full-time chicken!" 30 While 
Clark Kent finds his passion for Lois Lane reciprocated through the manifesta- 
tion of Superman (only, oddly enough, to repulse her), Parker is frustrated in 
his attempts to woo Gwen Stacy exactly because of his secret identity as 

The myth of mastery with which Golden Age superheroes were imbued 
evaporated with the advent of Peter Parker and his tragic Marvel cohorts. Lee's 
characters, through a variety of visual and narrative strategies, elucidate the 
agony of budding male adolescence - its monstrousness, impotence and vola- 
tile unpredictability. 31 At the same time, the Marvel cast of heroes became 
increasingly difficult to distinguish from the villains. In fact, foes like Quick- 
silver and the Scarlet Witch, once the X-Men's archenemies, were made he- 
roes, thanks in part to readers' suggestions. 32 

A review of the Marvel villains' origin stories, in which scientific mishaps 
are familiarly central, illuminates a strange parallelism between the genesis of 
good and evil in Lee's comic universe. The creation saga of Doctor Doom, 
who first appeared in Fantastic Four #5, recounts how Victor Von Doom , who 
possesses both magical powers and technical genius, comes from the heart of 
Eastern Europe to the U.S. to study at the same university as the young Reed 
Richards and Ben Grimm (the future Mr. Fantastic and The Thing). In the 
course of "conducting forbidden experiments," Von Doom's face is disfigured 
by an accidental explosion and he is expelled from school; soon after, he cre- 
ates a fearsome metal visage to mask his tragic defacement. Like Richards, 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

Doom is a talented scientist who jeopardizes his own safety in a secret en- 
deavor to "master" technology, and both become misshapen. Like Ben Grimm, 
the evil Doctor is horrified by the hideousness induced by his "powers," al- 
though Doom allows his self-pity and alienation to escalate into misanthropy. 33 

Likewise, a number of the Hulk's enemies, also green-skinned, are likewise 
born of accidents with gamma radiation: for instance, an "enemy spy" be- 
comes the colossal Abomination, whose pedigree owes to the Creature from 
the Black Lagoon , 34 Readers were even impelled to identify with these tor- 
tured villains, such as the Fantastic Four's first opponent, the Moleman; 35 as 
Stan Lee would later recall for his fans: "Didn't you find yourself sympathiz- 
ing with him [the Moleman], just a bit? There he was, ostracized by his fellow 
man - and woman - because his physical appearance left a little something to 
be desired." 36 When the Moleman recounts how he was mocked by women - 
"What? Me go out with you? Don't make me laugh!" - affinities with 
Spiderman cannot be ignored. 37 Where the costume insignias of the Golden 
Age clearly differentiate between good and evil supermen (or, indeed, between 
boy and man), Silver Age comics blur the distinction even while purporting to 
follow the same scripted morality play. The megalomaniacal Moleman and 
Abomination are defeated, predictably, but "superpowers," and thus, mascu- 
linity and its (presumed) positive generative potential, are nonetheless irrevo- 
cably tainted by this underlying ambivalence. 

The obsessive quest for clear identity markers permeated post-war America, 
especially where Cold War and sexual politics became conflated. John D'Emilio 
and Estelle Freedman write: "Worries about internal subversion took on a moral 
coloration as anticommunist ideologues searched for signs of decaying values, 
or the corruption of youth. Pornography became associated with juvenile de- 
linquency, which in turn threatened the nation's future." 38 At the core of this 
project to shore up both nation and dominant sexuality was the large-scale 
condemnation of homosexuals, who "suddenly found themselves labeled a threat 
to national security." 30 In the same way, the comic book also became suspect 
material, and its attackers reinscribed the criminality of both superhero titles 
and their readership. 

Hence the ambivalence of the Silver age heroes and villains refracted the 
dominant culture's apprehensions about the ambiguity of identity, be it sexual 
or political. Generally, it was impossible to tell, from external signs, if some- 
one was mutant or "normal," Communist or patriot, hetero- or homosexual. 
And as comic readers knew from experience, it was equally pointless to deter- 
mine whether an adolescent had made the transition from boy to man based on 
mere physical criteria. Male sexuality was thus subjected to thorough discur- 
sive legislation in the post-war period. As Estelle Freedman writes, "the male 
sexual deviant became the subject of special attention, particularly if he was 


John Ott 

inadequately masculine (the effeminate homosexual) or hypermasculine (the 
sexual psychopath)." 40 

Stan Lee, with his weakling/goliath hero formula, was also interested in the 
limits of masculinity, and his Janus-faced characters helped his marginalized 
comic readers negotiate the hegemonic constructions of the American man. 
Depending on the reader, these codes of masculinity are either reinforced or 
subversively appropriated; the superhero's sculpted physique is either ideal- 
ized as a standard to which to aspire or converted into a site of same-sex desire. 
To the horror of Fredric Wertham and others, the "dynamic duo" was inter- 
cepted by young gay male readers as a locus of identification; the psycholo- 
gist, who did not understand that cartoon heroes cannot have a fixed sexuality, 
thus designated them "homosexual" in order to clinch their identities and give 
form to the nation's fears. The widespread suspicion of "the enemy within" 
became focused both on a political valence (the Communist) as well as a sexual 
one (the homosexual). Yet "the enemy within" also bespeaks the angst of male 
adolescents, who were unable to keep their sexuality in check and were thus 
threatened with the prospect of being labeled "juvenile delinquents." 41 In each 
case, heroes such as the Hulk, constantly at war with themselves, acutely em- 
bodied these postwar anxieties. 

Of course, this comic renaissance marked not only the Silver but also the 
Atomic Age. A panel from Thor#115 exemplifies the widespread equation of 
Silver Age superpowers with nuclear energy; whirling his mystic phallus in a 
manner that visually recreates the atomic nucleus, the god of thunder informs 
an unsuspecting enemy that he possesses "the power to transmute the elements 
themselves!" 42 The special abilities of Lee's post-Hiroshima heroes were in- 
evitably induced by radioactive materials (Spiderman) or a thinly-disguised 
surrogate (the Fantastic Four's cosmic rays, the Hulk's gamma rays). The most 
blatant allusion emerged in The X-Men, where the parents of both Professor 
Charles Xavier and his pupils had all been, serendipitously, near atomic test 
sites or laboratories during the heroes' gestation in the womb. In addition, most 
Marvel protagonists were doctors, technicians, or inventors whose encounters 
with science (usually atomic) empower them, but, as we have seen, this rela- 
tionship with technology (as with their own masculinity) is highly ambivalent. 

The Silver Age represented the high-water mark of children's anxiety over 
nuclear proliferation. While the percentage of adults who expressed misgiv- 
ings about atomic energy steadily declined after 1954, with a brief resurgence 
in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, children's fears remained 
constant and proportionately outstripped those of their elders. 43 Apparently, 
the admonitions of Bert the Turtle, cartoon hero of civil defense films, to "duck 
and cover" during a nuclear attack did little to allay the concerns of American 
youth. Moreover, the prospect that radiation could induce birth defects seemed 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

to threaten the very heart of American culture (motherhood, the family) and 
reinforced the growing opinion that "mother nature" had been violated through 
the splitting of atoms. 44 Correspondingly, the "mutant" X-Men's (nuclear) 
powers were not entirely beneficial; Professor X, notably, loses his hair in his 
youth just as he begins to experiment with his newfound abilities, while The 
Hulk and The Thing are transformed into freakish monsters due to their con- 
tact with atomic energies. Even the monolithic Superman saga could accumu- 
late new meanings: Krypton, it was now clear, had succumbed to a nuclear 
holocaust; Superman, "issued" into our world by a scientist, was quite literally 
a child of the atom ("it's a boy!"); and kryptonite, which even sounded like a 
by-product of fusion, weakened and sickened the Man of Steel because it was 

As another invisible "menace" that had to be sequestered and regulated, 
like (homo)sexuality, nuclear power insinuated itself into the hidden forces of 
the Marvel universe. When an enemy spy learns Dr. Banner's secret and be- 
comes the Abomination, he gains destructive (atomic) potential as great as the 
Hulk's. And just as Lee strove to distinguish between the "benign" Hulk and 
"malevolent" Abomination through subtleties in physiognomy, the U.S. gov- 
ernment and dominant discourse sought to effect a productive ideological split 
between "good" and "bad" atoms. 45 On one hand, the benefits of atomic en- 
ergy were emphasized; an image from a 1947 issue of Collier's, which por- 
trayed an impaired man healed by a mushroom cloud, typifies the endeavor to 
accentuate the benevolent, healing potential of the atom. 46 Conversely, the 
negative aspects of atomic power were projected onto enemies of the state, or, 
in popular culture, a spate of movie monsters - which peaked in popularity 
from 1958 to 1965 - that could be handily defeated through personal valor and 
determination. 47 

In his account of the creation of the X-Men, Stan Lee indicates his alle- 
giance to this discursive project: "We decided to create two groups of mutants, 
one evil and the other good. One would be eternally striving to subjugate man- 
kind, and the other would be ceaselessly battling to protect the human race." 48 
Yet this attempt to force the unfathomable destructive potential of the fusion 
bomb - which defied both logic and ethics - into the dualistic framework of 
Euro- American morality betrays its own futility. Two of Lee's "evil" mutants 
(Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) were quickly converted into "good" he- 
roes, while Professor Xavier's disability seems to fly in the face of the rhetoric 
of the Collier's photomontage. If only the misuse of atomic (or super) powers 
generates monsters, produces disfigurements and eventuates injudicious pun- 
ishment, why is Prof. Charles Xavier bald and still wheelchair-bound? More 
to the point, why must Dr. Bruce Banner live in constant fear of his own (nuclear) 


John Ott 

As in the case of male sexualities, Silver Age heroes break down carefully 
erected barricades upholding the rationalization of nuclear energy. The grow- 
ing anxiety over the loss of control, both sexual and atomic, surfaces continu- 
ally in Marvel comics, especially in the pages of The Hulk. As Spencer Weart 
writes in Nuclear Fear. 

Worries about 'security' were commonly associated with that 
theme [of the mad scientist]. People. . . believed that security could 
be maintained only through the control of treacherous feelings, 
which must be suppressed not only in others but also in them- 
selves. For many people the prototype of such dangerous desires 
was the bad small boy's aggressive urge to probe into forbidden 
things. . . . Of course security also seemed to require controlling 
and keeping hidden the catastrophic forces that the urges aimed 
to uncover - forces that extended from real technical facts to the 
magical powers that children often associated with the mysteries 
of sex. . . . 49 

This rich passage illuminates how effectively Marvel superheroes negotiated 
this tangled skein of discourse for their audience. The duality of Mr. Fantastic 
and Doctor Doom, scientists who are, in a sense, equally mad and obsessed 
with the forbidden, dramatizes the fine line between control and chaos, "good" 
and "bad" desires, security and catastrophe. When a reader empathizes with 
the Moleman, whose "master plan" entails the destruction of all atomic plants, 
does he not (at least partially) give in to "dangerous desires"? 50 Put another 
way, will scientist Bruce Banner maintain "control," or will he revert to the 
childish Hulk, who is very much a "catastrophic force," a "bad small boy" with 
an "aggressive urge"? Lee's comic book figures make clear that the potency of 
postwar American masculinity and nuclear energy alike are innately inscribed 
with aggression and violence, "dangerous desires" ever at the threshold of re- 

A hackneyed truism tells us that each era requires its own brand of hero. 
The United States' Cold War epoch, in which men found themselves no longer 
(if they ever were) "masters" of either technology or themselves, produced 
mythic figures whose masculinity was hardly confident and irrefutable in its 
construction. Action Comics #309, created just prior to the president's death in 
1963, concludes with a meeting between John F. Kennedy and the Man of 
Steel. In order to preserve his secret identity, Superman entreats Kennedy to 
disguise himself as Clark Kent to create the illusion on national television that 
Kent and the costumed crusader are standing in the same room. Assuring Su- 
perman that he will "guard your secret identity as I guard the secrets of our 
nation," the president effectively collapses personal (or sexual) and national 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

identities, enumerating the "secret" of Kent's powers among other items of 
national security, such as its atomic "secrets." 51 More significantly, the 
superhero's literal identification with Kennedy, another (flawed and tragic) 
hero who brought the nation to the brink of nuclear apocalypse and fell prey to 
an act of senseless violence, underscores the inability of a monolithic hero 
from a long-gone "Golden Age" to serve as a panacea for modern social ills. 
Superman's query, "if I can't trust the President of the United States, who can 
I trust?" invites an ominous response in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis 
and Kennedy's assassination. 


' Spencer R. Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge & London: 
Harvard University Press, 1988), 143. 

2 See Weart; and Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and 
Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985). 

3 Steven Cohan, "Masquerading as a Male in the American Fifties," in Male Trouble, 
eds. Constance Penley and Sharon Willis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 
1993), 211. 

4 See Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior 
in the Human Male (Philadelphia & London: W. B. Saunders Co., 1948); and John 
D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America 
(New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 285-88. 

5 The Silver Age, as I understand and employ the term, spans very roughly the pe- 
riod from the revival of the Golden Age hero The Flash in October 1956 to the first 
broadcast of the Batman television show in January 1966. 

" Andy Medhurst, "Batman, Deviance and Camp," in The Many Lives of the Batman: 
Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media, eds. Roberta E. Pearson and Will- 
iam Uricchio (New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1991), 149-63. 

7 Paul Smith, "Action Movie Hysteria, or Eastwood Bound," Differences 1:3 (1989): 

8 Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts 
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), 108. 

9 Jules Feiffer, The Great Comic Book Heroes (New York: Dial Press, 1965), 18-19. 

10 Superman #3 (1939): 9. 

" Patrick Parsons, "Batman and His Audience: The Dialectic of Culture," in The 
Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media, eds. 
Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 
1991), 68. 

12 Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent (New York: Rinehart & Company. 
Inc., 1953). 


John Ott 

13 Ibid., 187-93. 

14 Parsons, 71-73. 

15 Ibid., 73-75. For example, a 1964 study by George Pumphrey disclosed that Su- 
perman was far and away most popular among twelve- and thirteen-year old boys. 
George H. Pumphrey, What Children Think of Their Comics (London: Epworth Press, 
1964), 31. 

16 Parsons, 78. 

17 Depending on the authority, Lee was editor, art director and head writer of either 
the Canam Publishers Sales Corporation or Timely Comics when the FF was born; the 
name Marvel Comics was not coined until 1963. See Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones, 
The Comic Book Heroes: From the Silver Age to the Present (New York: Crown Pub- 
lishers, Inc., 1985), 48; and Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics (New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1974), 13-18. 

18 Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961): 10. 

19 Jacobs and Jones, 88. 

20 Stan Lee, The Incredible Hulk (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 28. 

21 Amazing Fantasy #15 (March 1963): 2. 

22 Ibid. 

23 Lee, Origins, 133, 134. 

24 Spiderman #9 (February 1964). Quoted from Jacobs and Jones, 66. 

25 Les Daniels, Comix: A History of Comic Books in America (New York: Bonanza 
Books, 1971), 140. 

26 See Fantastic Four #5 (1962): 2. 

27 Wertham, 206-209. 

28 Lee, The Incredible Hulk, 1A. 

29 The Hulk #1 (May 1962): 10. 

30 Spiderman #72 (May 1969): 14. 

31 Peter Middleton makes a similar observation: "The Hulk series makes the split 
between ordinary man (boy) and superhero (manhood) its central theme, showing that 
what this division symbolizes is not the easy partnership represented by such images as 
Clark Kent's telephone booth transformations." The author, however, does not account 
for the historic singularity and significance of this shift in comic superheroes. Peter 
Middleton, The Inward Gaze (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 35. 

32 Jacobs and Jones, 109-10. 

33 Fantastic Four Annual Edition (1964): 10, panels 1-5; 1 1, panels 3-5. 

34 Stan Lee, Bring on the Bad Guys (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976), 191. 

35 Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961): 22, panel 1. 

36 Lee, Origins, 1 1 . 


Dangerous Superpowers: Comic Book Heroes and American Masculinity in the Atomic Age 

37 Fantastic Four#l (November 1961): 22. 
3S D'Emilio and Freedman, 282. 

39 Ibid., 292. 

40 Estelle B. Freedman, "'Uncontrolled Desires': The Response to the Sexual Psy- 
chopath, 1920-1960," in Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, eds. Kathy Peiss and 
Christina Simmons (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 203. 

41 See James Gilbert, A Cycle of Outrage: America 's Reaction to the Juvenile Delin- 
quent in the 1950's (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). 

i2 Thor#115, 14, panels 1,2. 

43 "Well after the Cuban crisis a poll [in 1965] found 40 percent of adolescents 
admitted 'a great deal' of anxiety about war, more than twice the rate found in older 
groups." Weart, 265. See also Boyer, 352-356. 

44 Weart, 184-95. 

45 Ibid., 170-82. 

46 Collier's (May 3, 1947), reprinted in Boyer, 156. 

47 See Michael Rogin, "Kiss Me Deadly: Communism, Motherhood, and Cold War 
Movies," in Ronald Reagan, the Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology 
(Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 1987), esp. 263-67. 

48 Stan Lee, Sons of Origins of Many el Comics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 
1975), 14. 

49 Weart, 125-26. 

50 Fantastic Four#l (November 1961): 23, panels 7, 8. 

51 51 Action Comics #309; reprinted in Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones, The Comic 
Book Heroes: From the Silver Age to the Present (New York: Crown Publishers. Inc., 
1985), 79. 


From Vietnam to the New World Order: 
The GI Joe Action Figure as Cold War Artifact 

Roger Chapman 
Bowling Green State University 

"I guess it's remembering a piece of history, trying to preserve a piece 
of history even if it's your own personal piece of history. . . . Who knows? 
Maybe a thousand years from now, some archaeologist is going to un- 
earth this house and come up with these G.I. Joe figures and get some 
insight into us as a culture." 

-H. Kirk Bozigian, a Hasbro executive, 
commenting on his personal collection 
of action figures ^ 

In 1964, when the GI Joe soldier doll for boys was introduced by Hassenfeld 
Brothers (later known as Hasbro), Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Reso- 
lution which escalated American involvement in Vietnam. Nonetheless, 
Hassenfeld designed its action toy to look like a World War II fighting man, 
who at the time figured prominently in such television adventure series as 
"Combat" (1962 -1967), "The Lieutenant" (1963), "12 0' Clock High" (1964- 
1967), and "Rat Patrol" (1966-1967). During this period there were also tele- 
vision situation comedies, some with World War II as the setting, which por- 
trayed the American military man as basically good, even if sometimes whim- 
sical and not always heroic. Examples include "Ensign O'Toole" (1962, 1964), 
"McHale's Navy" ( 1 962- 1 965 ), "Gomer Pyle, USMC" ( 1 964- 1 968), "Hogan's 
Heroes" (1965-1971), and "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" (1965). The World 
War II soldier was also glorified at the time in the exploits of DC Comics' "Sgt. 
Rock" and Marvel Comics' "Sgt. Fury." There are doubtless many reasons for 
this lingering fascination with World War II, but any serious analysis would 
have to take into consideration the interconnection of that war with the subse- 
quent American sense of obligation in international affairs. 

It should first be noted that the three presidents who succeeded Harry S. 
Truman were all veterans of World War II. They came into office with a high 
sense of duty toward the rest of the world, as can be seen by their inaugural 
addresses. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the hero general of D-Day and the orga- 
nizer of NATO, warned his fellow citizens in 1953 that "destiny has laid upon 


From Vietnam to the New World Order: The GI Joe Action Figure as Cold War Artifact 

our country the responsibility of the free world's leadership." Again, in 1957, 
beginning his second term, Eisenhower declared, "To counter the threat of 
those who seek rule by force, we must pay the costs of our own needed mili- 
tary strength, and help to build the security of others." When John F. Kennedy 
became president in 1961, he proclaimed that the United States would "pay 
any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any 
foe, in order to ensure the survival and success of liberty." In his 1965 inaugu- 
ral speech, Johnson explained, "We can never again stand aside, prideful in 
isolation. . . . If American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in 
countries we barely know, that is the price change has demanded of conviction 
and of our enduring covenant." These discourses not only represent the inter- 
connection of World War II and the Cold War, they also betray a sense of felt 
tensions and pressures brought on by the expanded role of American milita- 
rism. World War II came to be the source of the nation's new identity as a 
superpower, and that great event was also something to be looked back on for 
the occasional maintenance of national courage. 

Hence, the GI Joe action figure was made to look like the soldier of the 
"Good War," even though American soldiers were at that time fighting in South- 
east Asia. This boy's doll sold extremely well in its early years, but by 1970 the 
toll of the Vietnam protests was such that it prompted Hasbro to turn gung-ho 
Joes into "The Adventure Team." Instead of fighting a war, they would now 
grow beards and look for sunken treasure or track down wild animals. By 1976, 
the year after South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam, the GI Joe 
action figure was given the token name of "Super Joe" while being reduced in 
size from twelve to eight inches, as if there were a symbolic lowering of his 
stature. Two years later, with Kenner dominating the market with its Star Wars 
figures, Hasbro stopped producing GI Joes entirely. 

The GI Joe story does not end here. But subsequent events would put to the 
test the superpower resolve of the United States. In 1979, the year after GI Joe 
was discontinued, American prestige in foreign affairs was further deflated by 
the hostage crisis in Iran and, a year later, by the failed rescue attempt. The 
abandoned helicopters in Desert One were psychologically reminiscent of the 
ignoble withdrawal from Vietnam when, due to haste, American helicopters 
had to be shoved off the deck of an aircraft carrier and wastefully dumped into 
the South China Sea. : Also, in 1979, there was the Soviet invasion of Afghani- 
stan and, a year later, the US boycott of the Olympics held in Moscow. This 
period was also marked by labor unrest in Poland, which created tensions in 
Eastern Europe. The American public's response to these and other events was 
the election in 1980 of Ronald Reagan, a strong advocate of the armed forces 
and an unequivocal anticommunist. James Webb, the future head of the Navy 
and the man whose combat boots would be used as a model for the warrior 


Roger Chapman 

sculpture in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, came out with his second 
best-selling military novel, A Sense of Honor. Likewise, the theme of honor 
resounded prominently in Reagan's inauguration, first with Iran freeing the 
hostages, and second, through the remarks of the new president affirming 
American heroes such as Martin Treptow, who fell on a World War I battle- 
field. Hasbro, as if on cue, subsequently reissued GI Joe, designating it "A 
Real American Hero." 

This second wave of GI Joe action figures began an impressive assault, as if 
scaling the black granite wall of the newly dedicated Vietnam Veterans Memo- 
rial in Washington, even though they stood only three-and-three-quarters inches 
tall. Actually, this was the new size standard for the toy industry, based on 
Kenner's Star Wars figures. "A Real American Hero" is apparently what Ameri- 
can society wanted because the new GI Joe was the best-selling toy of the 1982 
holiday season. 3 Indeed, many children had written Hasbro, asking the toy 
maker to bring GI Joe back, and for its part Hasbro coopted the political dis- 
course of the times and used it for its marketing purposes. By the next year, GI 
Joe would have its own cartoon series, reinforcing the concept of soldier as 

In 1983, Reagan not only called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and 
announced plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), he saw to it 
that the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada was liberated from communist rule, 
as he no doubt felt that Cuba should have been two decades earlier. During his 
subsequent State of the Union speech, Reagan had a participant of the Grenada 
invasion, an airborne ranger, stand up before a joint-session of Congress and 
be recognized as an American hero. The following year Reagan easily won 
reelection while using the slogan "It's morning in America again." 

By the time George Bush assumed the presidency, Hasbro was claiming 
that two-thirds of American boys between the ages of five and eleven owned 
GI Joes. 4 In 1989, a year after Bush ordered the invasion of Panama and the 
kidnaping of its leader, GI Joe was introduced for the first time with actual 
shooting weapons. As one Hasbro official explained, seemingly echoing the 
common refrain about why the United States lost the Vietnam War, "We felt 
like we were playing with one hand tied behind our backs." 5 With such fire- 
power GI Joe could now be even more of a real American hero, while main- 
taining its strength in sales. In the real world of warfare, Bush vowed on the 
eve of Desert Storm that "No hands are going to be tied behind backs," ex- 
plaining, "This is not Vietnam." 6 

The year 1991, which began with the Gulf War and concluded with the 
collapse of the Soviet Union, was a moment in history when World War II, the 
Cold War, and the New World Order intersected. It starred an American presi- 
dent, a former World War II fighter pilot, overseeing the surgical air strikes 


From Vietnam to the New World Order: The GI Joe Action Figure as Cold War Artifact 

against Iraq, an action endorsed by an international coalition which symbol- 
ized a New World Order, and it coincided with the near simultaneous dissolu- 
tion of the USSR. Bush was the first American president able to proclaim, "We 
won the Cold War!" and "It's a New World Order!" The following year GI 
Joe, as victor, was back at his original twelve inches of height and given the 
name of "Duke." Dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, as if eager to reenact 
the Gulf War (maybe this time going all the way to Baghdad), "Duke" linked 
the action figure with the John Wayne legend. 7 As an actor in heroic movies 
depicting World War II (e.g., "Sands of Iwo Jima") and the Vietnam War (e.g., 
"The Green Berets"), Wayne ("Duke") was an apt symbol to tie together dif- 
ferent periods of history, connecting the present New World Order with the 
glorious past. 

The above narrative treats the GI Joe action figure as a Cold War artifact, 
reading it as a text that was written for, but not by, children. The inherent 
presupposition is that mass-produced toys-designed, marketed, and purchased 
by adults-are about more than just child's play. According to Thomas J. 
Schlereth, toys are "artifacts of two cultures" and "reveal as much about a 
society's adults as its children."* To read a toy as an adult text is not to ignore 
or dismiss the agency of children, but rather it is to examine one important 
dimension of meaning. In this case, what is being examined is the adult mean- 
ing infused into the artifact. 

The observation Roland Barthes made about French toys, that they "prefig- 
ure the world of adult functions," 9 can also apply to the American action fig- 
ure. Shortly after GI Joe was introduced, Antonia Fraser in A History of Toys 
described the action figure as "openly warlike," but went on to rationalize its 
existence, regrettable or questionable as it may have been, by concluding that 
it is an inevitable part of a child's desire to imitate adults: 

This is obviously the natural development of an age when a child's 
admired father is dressed up as GI Joe. As long as men go to war 
and armies exist children will want to play with soldiers, and there- 
fore one can scarcely blame the manufacturers for trying to fill 
the need. At the same time on the principle of the chicken and the 
egg, it might be argued that as long as the children are given sol- 
diers to play with, they themselves will grow up prepared to be 
soldiers-but here the argument begins to extend far outside the 
realm of a history of toys. 10 

What Fraser deemed as being beyond "history" is essentially cultural hege- 
mony, the socialization process involving the winning of loyalty to common 
values and attitudes." Toys that prefigure adult functions socialize children to 
think and feel in certain ways. When read as a text, the GI Joe toy can offer 


Roger Chapman 

insight into how certain American values and attitudes are passed on to chil- 
dren. The chicken and the egg argument is more ambiguous than Fraser framed 
it to be. On the one hand, many boys who played with GI Joes never evolved 
into Cold War soldiers. On the other hand, many who never wore military 
uniforms supported American interventionist policies. 

Anything that is made reveals a little of the maker's worldview. Simple as 
that may be, it is easy to overlook. The maker prefers that attention be given to 
the finished product, not to the process that went into its making. If there are 
explanations, then they will generally be focused on how the material object is 
to be used. If justifications are offered, then legitimation will often be based on 
universals, as if the artifact's reality is outside and apart from any human social 
construction. For example, a GI Joe promotional film viewed by potential buy- 
ers at the 1964 Toy Fair gave the impression that Hasbro's new action figure 
was only helping to fulfill the natural desires of boys: 

Since the beginning of time children have always played soldier- 
with wooden swords, broomstick rifles, with cast-lead soldiers, 
with plastic minatures . . . but none of these gave a boy the feeling 
he was playing real soldier. 12 

The GI Joe came with not only lifelike uniforms and realistic military ac- 
cessories, but a body with twenty-one movable joints which enabled it to be 
naturally posed in various combat situations. According to the promotional 
film, children could now play soldier and, thanks to Hasbro, the experience 
would seem more authentic. Here can be seen a subtle denial of cultural hege- 
mony, as the very moment of invention is disguised as merely a different form 
of preexisting essence. But what, in fact, was being introduced was a symbol 
for the time, a visual aid of the Cold War. 

According to Gene Del Vecchio, the GI Joe action figure is "Ever-Cool" 
because it satisfies an "eternal emotion" with its good-versus-evil storyline, 
while simultaneously being relevant to the contemporary context: "So as evils 
spring up in the real world, boys imagine that they can defend their country 
from it, and the G.I. Joe is the conduit through which they can fantasize." 13 If 
this explanation of GI Joe's popularity is correct, it suggests that cultural hege- 
mony is actualized by an emotionalizing process which connects certain ideas 
of reality with latent psychological needs. Even so, explanations of "Ever- 
Cool" and "eternal emotion" deny the power of creation by attributing it to 
something outside itself. 

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman in The Social Construction of Real- 
ity stress the importance of formula in transmitting experiences from one gen- 
eration to the next. 14 They explain that common experiences, perhaps what 
Raymond Williams would have called structures of feeling, 15 become 


From Vietnam to the New World Order: The GI Joe Action Figure as Cold War Artifact 

sedimented in human consciousness, which functions as a collective deposi- 
tory. A sign system, essentially language, is necessary for the transmission and 
retrieval of these common experiences. The GI Joe action figure, which is not 
only an artifact but also a formulaic sign system, serves as a template, connect- 
ing World War II with the Cold War, and now the Cold War with the New 
World Order. The formula is part of the "eternal emotion" and allows for mean- 
ing to change, as the sedimentation of the collective consciousness shifts and 
accommodates new experiences and new interpretations. This kind of mean- 
ing is complex, not simple, as it is based on symbols that suggest or imply 
rather than denote. 16 Any attempt at understanding the operation of cultural 
hegemony must distinguish between symbol and reality, or, in this case, be- 
tween action figure and reality. 

It is important to clarify that the theory of cultural hegemony does not pre- 
suppose a single view of reality, even if it does focus on what is considered to 
be a dominant one. In almost any given situation, there will be resistance, such 
as the social critics who objected to the GI Joe because of its being a war toy. 
Also, any view of reality is subject to change, especially during moments of 
crisis. For example, in America the "rallying around the flag" phenomenon 
will often take place during the initial outbreak of military conflict, and even 
individuals who had beforehand been opposed to the actions or policies lead- 
ing up to the event frequently find themselves siding with what they in a larger 
sense do not accept. (A person in such a situation might say, "While I question 
the need for us to intervene, I fully support our troops who have been de- 
ployed") Or, vice versa, supporters can later transform into oppositionists, as 
did many over the Vietnam War once they concluded it was a stalemated or 
immoral situation. Thus, any reference to a dominant viewpoint or ideology 
should be understood in a restricted sense for a particular context. At the same 
time, it should be emphasized that any focus on a specific prop of hegemony, 
in this case the GI Joe action figure, is not to suggest that any power it may 
have (or may have had) is one that developed in isolation; any such tool is 
simply one component of a multi-faceted whole. While there are dangers and 
pitfalls in any interpretive effort, there is at the same time the reality of a soci- 
ety having shared symbols and the researcher's dialectical safeguard of going 
back and forth between texts and contexts. 17 For the analysis offered in the 
first part of this essay, the text is the GI Joe action figure and the context is the 
historical narrative of 1964-1992. 

The last section of this presentation will focus on the "action figure" desig- 
nation for the GI Joe in an attempt to discover a hegemonic meaning. At a 
surface level, "action figure" is terminology which denies, or conceals, the 
reality of a boy's doll. GI Joe was inspired by Mattel's Barbie (which made its 
debut in 1959), but marketers realized that the typical boy would never play 


Roger Chapman 

with a doll that was actually called a doll. Hence, the "action figure" nomen- 
clature, made all the more convincing by the GI Joe's many movable joints. 
(Ironically, a federal judge ruled in 1989 that GI Joe is not a toy soldier but a 
doll, mandating that Hasbro pay a 12 percent rather than a 6.8 percent tariff for 
importing its Hong Kong-made action figure into the United States. 18 ) 

A feminist reading suggests that the GI Joe action figure reinforces the 
stereotype that males are supposed to be active, whereas Barbie, with less 
movability (because it is a fashion figure), teaches girls that females are ex- 
pected to be passive. 19 This viewpoint argues that "action figure" is a rein- 
forcement of male dominance. However, such observation is somewhat weak- 
ened by Ken, Barbie's boyfriend, who is also less mobile than GI Joe. Further- 
more, the GI Joe nurse, a female figure with blonde hair and painted green 
eyes, had the same bendable joints as the male figures of soldier, sailor, pilot, 
and marine. If the GI Joe nurse was just an auxiliary, Barbie at least was able to 
serve as an air force pilot, a navy chief petty officer, and an army captain. 20 
There was also a "Desert Storm Barbie ." 2I Moreover, since Mattel and Hasbro 
are not the same company, the argument that Barbie is representative of female 
passivity simply because it has fewer joints than GI Joe is all the more unten- 
able because it falsely fuses two "authors" (the toy manufacturers) into one 
and mistakenly attributes the differences in their "texts" (the boy's doll and the 
girl's doll) to a decision made by a singular mind. 

Any attempt to explain the meaning of the "action figure" designator should 
be based on the context in which it was created. That context is the Cold War. 
"Action figure" was the name given for a toy soldier that was introduced to the 
public during a full-blown manifestation of the Cold War, the military inter- 
vention in Southeast Asia now known as the Vietnam War. While the GI Joe 
was literally a movable toy soldier, the "action figure" name just happened to 
coincide with a fundamental American impulse. As an attitude, it was expressed 
in the inaugural addresses of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, all proclaim- 
ing that the United States must lead the way, set the example, and fight war 
when necessary. The Kennedy speech, for instance, offered the verbs of "pay," 
"bear," "meet," "support," and "oppose," expressing action, and anyone carry- 
ing them out would be in a sense an "action figure." 

This fundamental impulse or attitude is more than simply poetic matching. 
Rather, it has deep roots in the American past. Michael H. Hunt in Ideology 
and U.S. Foreign Policy argues that the Vietnam War was "the culmination . . . 
of an old [American] impulse to impose on the world the patterns of an ideo- 
logical foreign policy." 22 That old impulse, Hunt explains, can be traced back 
to the eighteenth century, when Americans envisioned themselves as having a 
national greatness, one founded on liberty and political moderation. Ameri- 
cans also shared a view that their nation was an example for the rest of the 


From Vietnam to the New World Order: The GI Joe Action Figure as Cold War Artifact 

world to follow. However, in time there developed racist attitudes that some 
foreigners were incapable of establishing democracy without outside help. That 
belief, coupled with a growing intolerance toward radicalism, led to greater 
and greater foreign intervention on the part of the United States. During the 
Cold War, the United States' foreign policy was a reaction against radicalism 
("communist aggression") and the fear that many countries were incapable of 
resisting such an antidemocratic threat. The policy of containment was actu- 
ally a vigorous and active vigilantism. 

Hence, the GI Joe action figure was (and is) about more than child's play. In 
actuality, it is an artifact of an ideology that was revived during World War II, 
but which can be traced back to the founding of the country. The sense of 
national greatness, as manifested during the Cold War, fosters a sense of re- 
sponsibility to take action wherever and whenever it is deemed necessary. This 
concept of duty, and the confidence to take action, is fostered in children who 
play with GI Joes and other toys like it. While it would be absurd to suggest 
that all boys who played with action figures went on to become soldiers, it 
could be argued that by adulthood most were supportive of American interven- 
tionism in foreign affairs. Such inculturation is not an isolated event, not ex- 
clusively the result of playing with certain toys, but is a process reinforced in a 
multitude of different ways over the course of an individual's lifetime. 

Today GI Joe is a Cold War artifact casting its shadow into the New World 
Order. As a symbol, and part of an American national depository of meaning, 
the GI Joe action figure transmits mythologies and experiences to the next 


1 G.Wayne Miller, Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the 
Companies That Make Them (New York: Times Books, 1998), 126. 

: Lynda Boose, "Techno-Muscularity and the 'Boy Eternal' : From the Quagmire to 
the Gulf," in Cultures of United States Imperialism, eds. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. 
Pease (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 586. 

3 Gary Cross, Kids 'Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cam- 
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 203. 

4 Ibid.. 204. 

5 Miller, Toy Wars, 127. 

6 Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillu- 
sioning of a Generation (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), 274. 

7 Dan Fleming, Powerplay: Toys as Popular Culture (New York: Manchester Univer- 
sity Press, 1996), 163. 


Roger Chapman 

8 Thomas J. Schlereth, Cultural History and Material Culture: Everyday Life, Land- 
scapes, Museums (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 91. 

9 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annete Lavers (New York: Hill & Wang, 1972), 

10 Antonia Fraser, A History of Toys (Frankfort-am-Main: Delacorte Press, 1966), 

11 The concept of cultural hegemony is rooted in the insights of Antonio Gramsci, 
The Modern Prince and Other Writings, ed. and trans. Louis Marks (New York: Inter- 
national Publishers, 1967), and Selections From Prison Notebooks, eds. and trans. 
Quentin Horace and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 197 1 ). 

12 Miller, Toy Wars, 27. 

13 Gene Del Vecchio, Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kid's Heart 
(Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., 1997), 40-41. 

14 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality (New 
York: Anchor Books, 1966). 67-72. 

15 See Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1975). 

16 Wendy Griswold, Cultures and Societies in a Changing World (Thousand Oaks, 
CA: Pine Forge Press, 1994), 19. 

17 Robert Darton, The Great Cat Massacre (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 259- 

18 Sydney Ladensohn Stern and Ted Schoenhaus, Toyland: The High-Stakes Games 
of the Toy Industry (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1990), 1 12. 

19 Judy Attfield, "Barbie and Action Man: Adult Toys for Boys and Girls, 1959-93," 
in The Gendered Object, ed. Patrick Kirkham (New York: Manchester University Press, 
1996), 80-89. 

20 Marianne Debouzy, "The Barbie Doll," in European Readings of American Popu- 
lar Culture, eds. John Dean and Jean-Paul Gabilliet (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 
1996), 142. 

21 Ann duCille, "Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandizing of 
Difference," in A Cultural Studies Reader: History, Theory, Practice, eds. Jessica Munns 
and Gita Rajan (London and New York: Longman, 1995), 556. 

"Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 1987), 170. 


American Dream Meets Russian 

Nightmare: Professional Wrestling 

and the End of the Cold War 

Terence Whalen 
University of Illinois at Chicago 

In the waning years of the Cold War, a curious series of events unfolded in 
one of the American professional wrestling leagues. A popular veteran wres- 
tler nicknamed "The American Dream" and an unpopular newcomer known as 
"the Russian Nightmare" became tag-team partners. This partnership — between 
Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff — originated within the National Wrestling 
Alliance (NWA) in the early months of 1987, before Gorbachev had imple- 
mented many of his proposed reforms and long before the Soviet Union finally 
collapsed in 1991 . Since professional wrestling is often treated as a repository 
of prejudice and blind patriotism, the alliance between the American Dream 
and the Russian Nightmare warrants further consideration. In this essay I would 
like to explore several interrelated issues: the importance of "alliance narra- 
tives" during the Cold War; the rehabilitation of the Russian image both in and 
out of the ring; and the implications of treating professional wrestling as a kind 
of performance art for the working class. 1 

I should begin by admitting the obvious: of course the competition is rigged. 
One look at Dusty Rhodes, fan favorite and occasional champion, should have 
convinced anyone that professional wrestling is less a sport than a performance 
art. By 1987, Rhodes was a flabby, fifty-year-old Texan with sagging pectorals 
who absorbed blows better than he delivered them. Outside of the ring, how- 
ever, the American Dream revealed the true basis for his popularity. Wearing 
boots, bandanna, and a cowboy hat, Rhodes used the television interview to 
transform himself into a working-class hero (he sounded for all the world like 
a white Jesse Jackson, complete with stirring cadences and ringing one-lin- 
ers). In the late 1980s, the NWA was able to squeeze a few more matches out 
of the fading Rhodes through its distinctive emphasis on tag teams and audi- 
ence participation. Unlike most forms of television entertainment, professional 
wrestling responds directly to the shifting moods and desires of the live audi- 
ence in the arena. 2 And unlike television coverage of professional sports, which 
tends to emphasize individual performance over teamwork, professional wres- 
tling foregrounds such group issues as loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal. 


Terence Whalen 

In this and other respects, professional wrestling resembles the nineteenth- 
century melodrama. 3 In each of these ostensibly lowbrow genres, exaggerated 
acts of virtue and vice elicit exaggerated responses from a largely working- 
class audience. The wrestling ring, like the melodramatic stage, is a site of 
struggle and transformation in which honest workaday characters like Dusty 
Rhodes battle against such evil powers as the Four Horsemen (managed by the 
sleazy James J. Dillon) and the vicious Midnight Express (managed by an 
obnoxious young millionaire named Jim Cornette). In professional wrestling, 
however, struggle itself is institutionalized to such an extent that dramatic roles 
become lifelong occupations. Just as no wrestler can be defeated once and for 
all, Dusty Rhodes could never separate himself from the identity conferred 
upon him by the spectacle. In most of the wrestling leagues now on television, 
this has led to a stultifying dead end: characters wrestle week after week, but 
nothing ever happens which might give permanent, irreversible meaning to a 
particular match. In the mid-1980s, the National Wrestling Alliance attempted 
to solve this problem by developing what might be called alliance narratives — 
stories based on the composition and recomposition of tag teams. Recognizing 
that an utterly isolated individual was an artistic cipher, the NWA tried to situ- 
ate its wrestlers within teams that had some kind of collective identity. Lex 
Lugar, for example, was virtuous or vicious not in his essence but in his asso- 
ciation with an established tag team. When he quit the Four Horsemen, he took 
the first step toward his own redemption and, at the same time, opened up new 
possibilities for future episodes of the NWA story. 

Of all the alliance narratives developed during the 1980s, the strangest one 
centered on the protean career of Nikita Koloff, nicknamed the "Russian Night- 
mare." Once paired with his Uncle Ivan Koloff to form a Soviet tag team, 
Nikita broke with his comrade to join up with none other than Dusty Rhodes. 
Given the NWA's penchant for reversal and betrayal, the switch was not in 
itself remarkable, especially since Koloff had already won the grudging re- 
spect of fans through his powerful physique and his devastating forearm hook 
called, appropriately enough, the Russian Sickle. Unexpectedly, however, fans 
started to feel more than mere respect for the awkward young representative of 
the Evil Empire. After Koloff defeated Magnum T. A. for the U.S. Heavyweight 
Title in 1986, promoters undoubtedly decided to exploit his ambiguous status 
by engineering his break with Uncle Ivan and later, by pairing him with the 
American Dream. On the surface, Nikita's defection might have appeared as 
yet another victory for the American way, but his transformation was handled 
with more subtlety and satire than was normally met with in the political dis- 
course of the Reagan-Bush years. Nikita's "own" explanation, far from cel- 
ebrating free enterprise, tended to question the meaning of patriotism and na- 
tional loyalty. With irony that could only have been intentional, Nikita de- 


American Dream Meets Russian Nightmare: Professional Wrestling and the End of the Cold War 

scribed what it felt like to become an American in an age of multinational 
capitalism: "I celebrate the Fourth of July instead of May Day, eat real eggs 
instead of caviar, and drive flashy Japanese car I buy on credit." 4 

Given the mutability of his alliances and the irony of his interviews, Nikita 
Koloff presents several problems for theories of mass culture. For one thing, 
the conversion of Nikita Koloff questions the adequacy of any theory of pro- 
fessional wrestling that derives its method from structural linguistics. In a semi- 
nal collection of essays on mass culture entitled Mythologies, Roland Barthes 
describes the wrestling ring as a site of "pure and full signification" through 
which one can experience "the euphoria of men raised for a while above the 
constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic 
view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without 
obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction."" In his account of the French 
counterpart to American professional wrestling, Barthes strongly emphasizes 
the "synchronic" plenitude of meaning (that is, he treats each match as a com- 
plete system or structure of significance). Unfortunately, Barthes's approach 
sheds little light on wrestling as a "diachronic" narrative of group conflict that 
develops over time and that never reaches a conclusion (except when the wres- 
tlers die or the leagues go bankrupt). NWA audiences undoubtedly delighted at 
such overt gestures of dominance as the body slam or the back breaker, but 
what packed the arena week after week was an appreciation for the decompo- 
sition and recomposition of tag teams that gave special meaning to individual 
acts of violence. Out of these acts of violence, the NWA fabricated a history 
marked by wild reversals of fortune: at every match fans could witness the foe 
turned into friend, the cheater defeated by his own cheating, the dominator 
utterly dominated. 

A similar theoretical problem arises when the linguistic and extralinguistic 
aspects of professional wrestling are treated as complementary parts of a single 
discourse, for one of the salient features of wrestling as a working-class art 
form involves the difference (and frequently the contradiction) between what 
is said during interviews and what happens in the ring. The special status of the 
interview is highlighted by the "Superpower" alliance between the eloquent 
Dusty Rhodes and the inarticulate Nikita Koloff. Over the course of his long 
career, Rhodes had become sluggish in his moves but extremely fluent in his 
speech. Koloff, for all his talent in the ring, spoke so crudely that every third 
word was incomprehensible (No doubt he was trying to imitate a real Russian 
immigrant, but to my ear he sounded more like a moose with strep throat). 
Curiously, this actually endeared Koloff to his American audience, for in pro- 
fessional wrestling, a certain degree of inarticulateness can serve as a token of 
authenticity (as long as it is consistent with the wrestler's persona). The two 
wrestlers comprising the Rock 'n' Roll Express, for example, were consis- 


Terence Whalen 

tently bashful and reticent during interviews. Mimicking the behavior of some 
young athletes and rock stars, they always managed to give the impression that 
the interviewer's microphone was an imposition from official society which 
they politely endured. 

But if inarticulateness was sometimes an indication of a wrestler's sincer- 
ity, having a manager present during questioning was almost always a sign of 
deceit. There may have been a kernel of true emotion in the words of one of the 
Four Horsemen, but their manager — James J. Dillon — was so calculating and 
greedy that he regularly aroused hisses from the audience. Fans also loved to 
hate Jim Cornette, but in this case the audience response was heightened by 
socio-economic inequity. Cornette, manager of the Midnight Express, played 
the part of a spoiled rich kid, and he used the interviews as occasions to whine, 
snivel and gloat (If Dusty Rhodes sounded like a white Jesse Jackson, Jim 
Cornette resembled a young George Bush). Never appearing without his ten- 
nis racket — scepter of the ruling class — Cornette used his family money to 
buy friends and titles. In 1987 he even tried to hire Dick Murdoch (Captain 
Redneck) to win the U.S. Heavyweight Title and then deliver the belt to Beau- 
tiful Bobby Eaton (the ugly half of the Midnight Express). 

Thus, the interview is not a partial moment of a seamless, unified discourse 
but the false half of a contradiction between word and deed, between ideologi- 
cal claim and material conflict. However gullible the audience may seem dur- 
ing actual matches, they view interviews with great skepticism, and it is fair to 
say that they verify the truth or falsity of particular utterances by observing the 
collisions and contortions of the bodies from which the utterances originated. 
As to the bodies themselves, it is once again important to distinguish between 
the NWA in the 1980s and the more popular (and commercialized) wrestling 
syndicates on television today. In the 1980s, the NWA was notable for present- 
ing a surprising range of shapes and sizes with varying degrees of muscularity 
or obesity. In part, this was a response to loyal, longtime fans, who had greater 
appreciation for old feuds and old wrestlers. There may, however, have been a 
deeper meaning behind this phenomenon. Promoters could have assembled a 
cast of large, finely sculpted athletes, but I think the NWA's traditional fans 
would have derived little pleasure from viewing the uniform products of ste- 
roids and Nautilus machines. A heterogeneous array of shapes allows an "av- 
erage" body to triumph occasionally over bodies formed by self-discipline and 
scientific management. For this reason a diversity of bodies allows the tran- 
scendence of mere physique, and the ring therefore grants a certain equality of 
opportunity to all who enter it. In doing so it implies that the men who struggle 
there are something more than brute flesh and bone. 

In this paradoxical manner, professional wrestling sometimes generates a 
humane message out of the most calculating degradation, just as it manufac- 


American Dream Meets Russian Nightmare: Professional Wrestling and the End of the Cold War 

tures "chance" outcomes by requiring wrestlers to follow a meticulously de- 
tailed script. Even if the outcome of every match were not decided in advance, 
the ostensible role of error and chance would be enough to disqualify profes- 
sional wrestling from being a true athletic competition. But this disqualifica- 
tion allows professional wrestling to respond to the audience's most Utopian 
impulses by incorporating (or travestying) broader social and political issues. 
Freed from the rigors of competition and the standards of taste, professional 
wrestling can occasionally function as a kind of sentinel sport. In other words, 
since professional wrestling is relatively free from formal regulations, it can 
quickly register and exploit the shifting attitudes of the viewing public. 

As I have suggested, this capability is best illustrated by the strange career 
of Nikita Koloff during the waning years of the Cold War. For much of the 
1980s, Koloff was still marketed as a classic villain, that is, as a wrestler who 
openly violated the "rules" for evil purposes. In addition, Koloff 's Soviet citi- 
zenship was often contrasted with American patriotism. In one politically 
charged match that occurred in 1985, Don Kernodle defeated Ivan Koloff and 
thereby regained his American flag from the desecrating Russians. Nikita — 
attending his uncle at ringside — refused to abide by the decision and viciously 
attacked Kernodle, who had to be rescued by none other than Dusty Rhodes. 
Both the malicious interference by Nikita Koloff and the rescue by Dusty Rhodes 
were standard scenes in the NWA repertoire. That is, most wrestlers — espe- 
cially the villains — ostensibly harbored deeply-felt animosity toward oppo- 
nents and a corresponding disrespect for the rules of the ring. Wrestlers were 
also presumed to be too strong for normal mortals to restrain, so when a villain 
ran amuck, he had to be stopped by a "good" wrestler who respected the rules 
of fair play. Promoters accordingly used the interference and the rescue not 
only to add interest (and outrage) to a particular match, but also to develop a 
wrestler's public image as a villain or hero. 

In any event, Nikita Koloff was fairly consistently portrayed as a villain 
throughout 1985. When Ivan Koloff and Krusher Krushev were being defeated 
by the Rock 'n' Roll Express, Nikita leapt into the ring with a chain and stopped 
the match. Nikita's bad behavior continued through 1986 when he met with 
Magnum T.A. to sign a lucrative contract for future matches. In the televised 
press conference, Magnum T.A. was accompanied by his mother while Nikita 
was seconded by his Uncle Ivan. Nikita had already desecrated the American 
flag, and with an embodiment of American motherhood so nearby, he could 
not resist insulting "Mrs. T.A." Magnum of course retaliated, but he was no 
match for the two Russians. Later, in a move calculated to outrage and thereby 
attract wrestling fans, the NWA president delivered an official reprimand, not 
to the Koloffs, but to Magnum T.A. Magnum punched the president and was 
stripped of his title pending the outcome of seven matches with Nikita Koloff. 


Terence Whalen 

Out of this melodramatic cauldron of outrage and villainy, Nikita Koloff rose 
to become the U.S. Heavyweight Champion. 

But how did he become popular with American fans? The fans expect 
reversals and betrayals — this in fact lends drama to tag team matches and builds 
interest in individual rivalries. In the case of Nikita Koloff, however, there 
were several additional factors at play. First, Nikita 's age and inexperience 
worked to his advantage, for his anti-American acts could be characterized as 
mistakes of youth. Second, there was always a tongue-in-cheek quality to 
Nikita's ostensible devotion to Soviet Communism (one of the standard NWA 
publicity photos shows the hulking Nikita and Ivan Koloff struggling to under- 
stand a book on Soviet political philosophy, which bears the English title Pro- 
paganda). Finally, social class played a key role in Nikita's rehabilitation. As 
indicated above, Nikita himself emphasized the material, practical aspects of 
his move from Russia to the United States. Pro Wrestling Illustrated, the maga- 
zine which helped facilitate Nikita's transformation, placed a similar emphasis 
on practical conditions rather than grand ideologies: 

Those born in this country find it hard to imagine the sheer multi- 
tude of adjustments that someone raised in a Communist country 
must make in order to live in America. ... In the Soviet Union, 
everyone is guaranteed a job, no matter how unfit they might be. 
It may not be caviar and roses, but it is steady. In America one can 
rise to greater heights, but fail just as resoundingly. 6 

Due to all of these factors, the fans were willing to view Nikita, not as the 
personification of an evil empire, but as a working wrestler who was com- 
pelled to practice his trade in a different social order. For Dusty Rhodes and for 
NWA fans, in other words, class solidarity based on a shared necessity to work 
could occasionally overcome Cold War antagonisms rooted in national differ- 

It therefore became possible to turn the powerful young Nikita into an ally 
of Dusty Rhodes, who was struggling to squeeze a few more victories out of 
his aging and injured body. 7 On several occasions, the two wrestlers were team- 
mates in eight-man matches, as in the spring of 1987, when Rhodes, Nikita 
Koloff, and the Road Warriors were pitted against a version of the Four Horse- 
men (Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, and Ole Anderson). Such 
anomalous, ad hoc teams do not necessarily imply a strong bond among the 
wrestlers, so it was significant when promoters decided to take the next step of 
pairing Rhodes and Nikita Koloff as a regular, two-man tag team. The emer- 
gence of this team was partly facilitated by the actions of Dick Murdoch. 
Murdoch, a.k.a. "Captain Redneck," had been paired up with Dusty Rhodes in 
the 1960s. Their team, called the Texas Outlaws, had a reputation for brawling 


American Dream Meets Russian Nightmare: Professional Wrestling and the End of the Cold War 

and cheating. As one might expect, there was no honor among villains, and the 
relationship between the two men alternated between periods of devoted friend- 
ship and dastardly acts of betrayal. The team broke up in the 1970s, and al- 
though Murdoch retained his "Texas Outlaw" image, Rhodes developed a new, 
more endearing persona as "The American Dream." In any event, Murdoch 
briefly teamed up with Rhodes and Nikita in 1987, but true to form, Murdoch 
"unexpectedly" turned on the other two wrestlers. From Rhodes's perspective, 
a loyal Russian was better than a back-stabbing Texan, so Rhodes and Koloff 
became a regular two-man tag team, competing against the likes of the Mid- 
night Express and the team of Ric Flair and Lex Lugar. The alliance between 
the American Dream and the Russian Nightmare did nothing to hurt Rhodes's 
reputation with the fans, for at the end of 1987, Pro Wrestling Illustrated named 
him "Most Popular Wrestler." 

For Nikita Koloff, teaming up with Rhodes was a means to rehabilitate his 
image with the fans. The success of his rehabilitation was vividly demonstrated 
in January 1988, in a televised match between Nikita Koloff and Mike Rotundo 
of the Varsity Club. s As the name indicates, the Varsity Club served as a sym- 
bol of wealth and education in professional wrestling. Rotundo himself bore 
the nickname of "Mr. Wallstreet," and both his moves and his uniform (singlet 
and headgear) were derived from the genuine collegiate sport. The January 
match was a two-man contest between Koloff and Rotundo, so in essence the 
audience was treated to a politically charged conflict between the burly Rus- 
sian and the college-educated representative of the American elite. Confronted 
with such a spectacle, the audience had a number of options. They could, for 
example, have decided that both wrestlers were villains, and simply rooted for 
a violent, destructive match. They could also have chosen to pass negative 
judgment on Nikita's rehabilitation if they believed that Russians were inher- 
ently villainous. Instead, the audience decided that Rotundo was the real vil- 
lain, and they rooted loudly for the workaday Russian partner of the American 
Dream. In the end, Nikita Koloff won a double victory — in the ring and in the 
hearts of his American audience. 

The match was a turning point in the career of Nikita Koloff. In all likeli- 
hood, promoters had decided that class solidarity could be used to increase 
ticket sales. If nothing else, they recognized that the Russian image had be- 
come less menacing and more fluid to a working-class audience. Paradoxi- 
cally, Nikita's transformation was confirmed by a subsequent defeat. Villains 
are especially coveted by promoters because they sharpen conflicts and stimu- 
late enthusiasm for protagonists. In addition, promoters frequently exploit vil- 
lains and villainy in televised contests to promote fan interest in local or pay- 
per-view matches. A few weeks after their initial match, Rotundo and Nikita 
Koloff wrestled again, this time for the so-called television title (then held by 


Terence Whalen 

Koloff). To the obvious displeasure of the audience, Rotundo won the title. His 
victory signalled the emergence of a new chief villain in the NWA, but more 
significantly, it indicated that class resentment had displaced Cold War mis- 
trust as the ultimate source of fan animosity. It is not so easy to explain why a 
match with a predetermined outcome should have aroused such passion in the 
audience several years before the Cold War had officially ended. Maybe the 
fans were drawn to NWA spectacles because official society condemned them, 
or perhaps the NWA appealed to their buried desires for a new kind of alliance. 
Whatever the appeal, the NWA reached its peak of popularity during the Reagan- 
Bush era. In those years the NWA created a crude arena where the struggle was 
not between lone protagonists and a seamless power structure, but between 
polarized groups who were forced to put aside their lies and fight it out in the 

According to some sociologists, it should have been impossible for profes- 
sional wrestling to stray so far from Cold War conformity. Michael R. Ball, for 
example, characterizes professional wrestling as a "liminoid ritual designed to 
maximize profits and to surreptitiously promote the core values of conserva- 
tive bureaucratic elites." 4 As I have suggested, the curious alliance of the Ameri- 
can Dream and the Russian Nightmare demonstrates that there was — on occa- 
sion — a much greater degree of ideological openness in the NWA than admit- 
ted by such theories. Skeptics at the other end of the spectrum, including the 
"bureaucratic elites" themselves, may still object that professional wrestling is 
not fair competition, that it fails to conform to a free market model in which 
individuals rise and fall through their own efforts. These objections are en- 
tirely justifiable, but I think they have less to do with wrestling per se than with 
the curious status of freedom in this class-conscious performance art. The cul- 
turally privileged must, after all, view professional wrestling in much the same 
way that the working class views a supposedly competitive economy in the 
post-Cold War era. Ask the fans of professional wrestling about the economy, 
and they'll tell you that of course the competition is rigged. 


' Sharon Mazer disputes the characterization of professional wrestling as a form of 
working-class entertainment. According to her, the "mass cultural appeal" of profes- 
sional wrestling is a sign of the audience's "heterogeneity." See Sharon Mazer, Profes- 
sional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 
1998), 3. Depending on how one defines a social class, however, "mass culture" may in 
fact be aimed at the working class, and the working class may in fact be "heteroge- 
neous." My experience of professional wrestling in North Carolina during the 1980s 
suggests that professional wrestling was closely, though not exclusively, oriented to- 
ward a working-class audience. For further confirmation of this impression, see Winfrey 


American Dream Meets Russian Nightmare: Professional Wrestling and the End of the Cold War 

M. Ruffin, Jr., "Professional Wrestling as a Resource for Social Workers," paper deliv- 
ered at the Popular Culture Association of the South Annual Conference, October 1988. 

2 Whatever one thinks about the falseness of the spectacle itself, be assured that the 
passion of the audience is very real. For an insightful personal reminiscence and com- 
mentary about professional wrestling, see Bert Randolph Sugar, "Wrestling Match a 
Morality Play for Our Time," A dvertising Age (12 August 1985): 28. 

3 Henry Jenkins refers to professional wrestling as "masculine melodrama." Quoted 
in Sharon Mazer, Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle, 18. 

4 "Nikita Koloff," Pro Wrestling Illustrated (March 1988): 28. 

5 Roland Barthes, "The World of Wrestling," in Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers 
(New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 25. 

6 "Nikita Koloff," 28. 

7 Rhodes's celebrated leg injury was a story in itself. Villainous opponents repeat- 
edly attacked the injury, which aroused fan outrage toward the villains and sympathy 
toward Rhodes himself. 

8 Broadcast 30 January 1988 on WTBS affiliates. 

9 Michael R. Ball, Professional Wrestling as Ritual Drama in American Popular 
Culture (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 141. 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine 
and the Cultural Cold War 

Nathan Abrams 
Brunei University 

As part of the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations' Cold War cam- 
paigns to inform the American public of the external and internal threats posed 
by the Soviet Union and the communist movement, the concept of "freedom" 
was inserted into the heart of speech as a key pillar of anticommunist dis- 
course. Both administrations and their various allied blocs promoted a regu- 
lated discourse of freedom producing a steady proliferation of discourses from 
a whole series of different institutions both official and non-official, public and 
private. The concept of freedom was used as ideological ammunition against 
the USSR and freedom was promoted as propaganda, producing a discursive 
conflict. Private agencies functioned as particularly important sites in the ra- 
diation of these discourses since they masked official efforts and their products 
could not simply be labeled as "propaganda." 

In this essay, I will show how a nonofficial and private agency, in this case 
Commentary magazine, radiated discourses of freedom virtually indistinguish- 
able from those of the United States government as it cooperated in a war of 
position against the Soviet Union and communism. In order to demonstrate the 
extent to which the discourse of freedom became hegemonic at this time, I will 
concentrate particularly on the visualization of freedom displayed in the jour- 
nal by advertisements for popular products such as Welch's Grape Juice, Ford 
Motor Cars, and RCA electronics. These materials reveal how private compa- 
nies consciously and willingly adapted, produced and negotiated discourses of 
freedom across the pages of popular magazines during the Cold War. 

Discourses of freedom were not new to America. They stretched back to 
the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well 
as the more recent "Four Freedoms" of FDR. Since the onset of the Cold War, 
however, discourses of freedom entered a new phase of almost unprecedented 
usage although they may have drawn upon earlier strategies. The defining cul- 
tural moment for this new phase was the Truman Doctrine (delivered 1 2 March 
1947), which represented the "Genesis" of the Cold War. "At the present mo- 
ment in world history," Truman informed Congress, "nearly every nation must 
choose between alternative ways of life." 1 Truman thus established a set of 
universal structural categories through which the world was to be subsequently 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

defined and understood. These "ways of life" represented inescapable catego- 
ries or binary oppositions that simplistically divided the world into two oppos- 
ing factions: Good/Evil, Christianity/ Atheism, Democracy/Totalitarianism, and 
Freedom/Slavery. The universality of these categories was reinforced by their 
conspicuous lack of any specificity or historical rootedness: Truman did not 
explicitly name the Soviet Union as the aggressor, giving his discourse a time- 
lessness and transcendence that reinforced its generality. This discourse soon 
became the dominant cultural capital that was filtered across and down all 
sections of American society during the Cold War. 

Within this speech, freedom was initially defined as "life free from coer- 
cion." Later the actual conditions of a "free" society were outlined: "the will 
of the majority... representative government, free elections, guarantees of indi- 
vidual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political op- 
pression." 2 Freedom was also marked by "autonomy" since it was not the duty 
of the United States to impose freedom, but to enable "free peoples to work out 
their own destinies in their own way." 3 Of course, this was not highly philo- 
sophical; it was a definition that was made to conform to the perceived char- 
acteristics of American democracy. As Daniel T. Rodgers has put it: "Freedom 
was America: its refrigerators, its elections, its alliances, its swelling patrio- 
tism." 4 This was further heightened by its converse, "totalitarianism," that was 
characterized by "the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority ... 
[which] relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed 
elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms." 5 

The Truman Doctrine insisted that the United States had a responsibility 
actively to defend and spread (its conception of) freedom throughout the world, 
by any means it deemed necessary. These broad prescriptions for the preserva- 
tion of freedom, however, required translation into effective policy in response 
to the launch of a "peace" strategy by the Soviet Union in 1948. This initiative 
sought to spearhead a worldwide campaign against the US nuclear capability 
by encouraging European and American intellectuals to join a "peace offen- 
sive." Through a series of congresses in Wroclaw, Prague, and Paris as well as 
the awarding of "Stalin Prizes," the USSR sought to nurture public condemna- 
tion of American Cold War foreign policy. 6 

The United States acknowledged the urgent need to counter the Soviet 
emphasis on "peace." The result was the promotion of "freedom" as propa- 
ganda. The National Security Council (NSC) directive 20/4 (1948) had al- 
ready recommended the "exploitation of] the potentialities of psychological 
warfare. . .within the Soviet orbit." 7 The policy document NSC 68 (1950) con- 
tinued this line of thought, providing what Walter Hixson has called a "con- 
ceptual framework" similar to the Truman Doctrine. 8 It stated: "we have no 
choice but to demonstrate the superiority of the idea of freedom by its con- 


Nathan Abrams 

structive application," for the "idea of slavery can only be overcome" by its 
"timely and persistent demonstration." 9 It carried on to assert that: "It is only 
by practical affirmation, abroad as well as at home, of our essential values, that 
we can preserve our own integrity, in which lies the real frustration of the 
Kremlin design."" 1 Indeed, NSC 68 repeatedly called for "practical" demon- 
strations of the concept of freedom. It had been implicitly accepted, therefore, 
that the very idea of freedom itself was a sufficient weapon against Soviet 
propaganda that had coalesced around the concept of peace. In the following 
years, therefore, the ideological conflict became a confrontation of discourses 
couched in terms of "freedom" versus "peace." 

NSC 68 emphasized an activist, positivist, and interventionist role for the 
United States in this offensive. The document constantly called for a projec- 
tion of the United States' moral and material strength into the wider world. 
While supporting a "free trade in ideas" at home, it negated the concept abroad. 
It articulated a "determination if necessary to defend our way of life." 11 It 
proclaimed the necessity of "practical" affirmation and demonstration abroad 
of its values and it accepted "the responsibility of world leadership," which 
this necessitated. 12 This is summed up in its "Political and Psychological" 

Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one 
designed to foster a world environment in which the American 
system can survive and flourish. It therefore rejects the concept 
of isolation and affirms the necessity of our positive participation 
in the world community. 13 

Deriving from the firm belief that there can be no competition in ideas, that the 
only correct way is the American one, NSC 68 called for a rejection of diver- 
sity abroad (while advocating it at home) and the implantation of a single 
overriding system. While attacking the Soviet Union for attempting to do the 
same, the United States hid its fundamental purpose behind a discourse of 
benevolence, tolerance, and diversity. It spoke of "the marvelous diversity" 
and "the deep tolerance" of "the free society." 14 What is more, it claimed that 
free societies even tolerated those who sought to destroy them. According to 
NSC 68 "the free society does not fear, it welcomes diversity. It derives its 
strength from its hospitality to antipathetic ideas. It is a market for free trade in 
ideas." 15 And in a supremely arrogant statement, the document prided itself on 
the "essential tolerance of our world outlook, our generous and constructive 
impulses, and the absence of covetousness." 16 

The United States was repeatedly equated with freedom throughout the 
document. Eventually, the cumulative effect was that, within the parameters of 
NSC 68, the two were synonyms for one another. In contrast, the USSR was 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

equated with slavery, a discursive concept deriving from the Truman Doctrine 
of 1947. Truman had defined totalitarianism/slavery as democracy's opposite. 
Although he did not directly nor explicitly equate this totalitarian/slave society 
with the Soviet Union, a public information campaign left the American public 
in no doubt as to whom he was referring. 

NSC 68 firmly located itself within this discourse. From the very outset it 
left no room for doubt: "There is a basic conflict between the idea of freedom 
under a government of laws, and the idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy 
of the Kremlin." 17 The Soviet State "demands total power over all men... 
without a single exception." 18 "The idea of freedom," therefore, can be mobi- 
lized against the USSR because it "is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of 
the idea of slavery." 19 Indeed, "The existence and persistence of the idea of 
freedom is a permanent and continuous threat to the foundation of a slave 
society." 20 The two systems were, as a consequence, "mortally" opposed. 21 
NSC 68 continued the discursive speech initiated by the Truman doctrine: 
America and the Soviet Union are polarized as binary opposites, the two sys- 
tems were "irreconcilable" and antipathetic. 22 The United States was free while 
the USSR was enslaved and since freedom can destroy slavery, America can 
smash the Soviet Union. 

Following NSC 68's sweeping review of US diplomacy, a "Campaign of 
Truth" was instigated. Edward Barrett, Assistant Secretary of State for public 
affairs, directed this offensive. Barrett proposed "an all-out effort to penetrate 
the Iron Curtain with our ideas," recommending "a bold new propaganda of- 
fensive, perhaps styled 'The Voice of Freedom.'" Eventually the slogan "Cam- 
paign of Truth" was adopted and on 20 April 1950, Truman launched it with a 
call for a "sustained, intensified program to promote the cause of freedom 
against the propaganda of slavery." 23 

A key part of this Campaign of Truth was the establishment of a public- 
private network. The Truman Administration sought private partners to assist 
in its freedom offensive. It is now well known, for example, how the CIA 
covertly used a host of fronts and dummy foundations such as the Hoblitzelle 
Foundation and the Kaplan Fund to cover its efforts in the field of psychologi- 
cal warfare. 24 In this way, the United States struggled to mask its official 
propaganda efforts precisely so that they would not be construed as propa- 
ganda. Many private agencies, organizations, and corporations were willingly 
mobilized in the service of the Cold War. These included the Ford Foundation, 
the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Ameri- 
can Committee for Cultural Freedom, and the American Jewish Committee 

The AJC was very active in the propagation of this "Cultural Cold War." 
The chairman of its Chicago chapter, Ely M. Aaron, announced: "As a matter 


Nathan Abrams 

of principle, the AJC should ally itself openly and on the record with every 
organization and concept which seek the well-being of the people of this coun- 
try by democratic principles." 25 The Committee accepted its new postwar role 
of defending democracy with vigour, mobilizing its 14,000 members across 
35 chapters nationally as well as its offices abroad in Europe and Latin 
America. 26 It circulated propagandistic materials with its own funds without 
official prompting and cooperated with many elements of the government. It 
demonstrated itself to be overtly loyal, pro- American, and anticommunist, yet 
sensitive to developments behind the Iron Curtain. The AJC prepared excellent 
research reports on aspects of Soviet behavior, in particular antisemitism and 
the Soviet treatment of the Jews. It participated in many anticommunist initia- 
tives such as the Crusade for Freedom in Support of Radio Free Europe, the 
Ail-American Conference against Communism, Voice of America, and Pro 
Deo. 27 In addition, the State Department was interested in the Committee's 
French publication Evidences as a "source of valuable material." 28 In its an- 
nual report of 1951, the AJC expressed pride in its level of commitment to 
"aiding America in its propaganda warfare against Soviet Russia." 29 The Com- 
mittee, therefore, was a useful ally for the American government. 

As the magazine of the American Jewish Committee, Commentary was 
also mobilized as a participant in this effort. The Committee had established 
Commentary in 1945 as "a journal of significant thought and opinion on Jew- 
ish affairs and contemporary issues." The magazine theoretically operated 
under the principle of "editorial freedom" and did not promote any particular 
sectarian agenda. Since its editorial board was composed of ex-radicals who 
had abandoned Trotskyism in the 1930s and 40s, many of its writers took a 
secular, liberal, and anticommunist view toward most subjects. They sought to 
produce a journal of highbrow thought on a broad range of topics that distin- 
guished it from both the ideas of the masses and what they perceived as the 
more mediocre elements of middle-class American Jewry. Commentary be- 
came one of America's most celebrated magazines. It became the premier post- 
war journal of American Jewry, attracting a readership far wider than its Jew- 
ish community of origin. Doubleday editor Barbara Zimmerman noted that 
although the magazine dealt "with Jewish affairs, it is primarily a magazine of 
general interest" with an "excellent reputation in this country among the gen- 
eral and not strictly Jewish market." 30 And Milton S. Katz added that "Many 
Americans in the fifties agreed with Commentary's positions,"that "its articles 
elicited a heavy and emotional response from various segments of society," 
and that "its influence clearly extended beyond that of many larger publica- 
tions." 31 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

Like its parent organization, the staff of Commentary actively worked to 
promote the props of the Cultural Cold War. Its editorial staff had emerged 
from World War II as committed anti-Stalinists and hence no conversion to 
anticommunism was required. Commentary's editor, Elliot Cohen, commis- 
sioned and published many articles that were consistent with the aims of US 
policy at this time. 32 For example, Commentary openly supported the 
government's case against the Rosenbergs and alleged that appeals for clem- 
ency were a communist propaganda trap. 33 Commentary was a journal of opin- 
ion so favorable to the US government that it was consistently mobilized as 
part of the freedom campaign. The State Department regularly perused its pages 
and reprinted its articles for global dissemination. By 1949 the State Depart- 
ment had published and broadcast over Voice of America no less than twenty 
Commentary articles in the German Occupation Zone because, in the words of 
Time magazine, it "so ably stated the position of the democratic world." 34 

Although Commentary devoted many of its pages to advancing the cause of 
freedom, I shall only focus upon its advertisements here to show how the hege- 
monic discourse of freedom filtered down to concrete levels of everyday life. 35 
Advertisements powerfully underlined the magazine's discourses in a visual 
form. I shall examine several representative examples from the 1 950s to dem- 
onstrate this process. These advertisements clearly indicate that freedom as a 
key construct of Cold War discourses was radiated across the pages of Com- 
mentary magazine. 

From the beginning, the Eisenhower Administration used advertising as a 
key tactic in fighting the Cultural Cold War. Eisenhower and his advisors con- 
trived ways to promote American culture through free trade and consumer goods. 
The most effective method of achieving this, they felt, was through advertising 
and displaying a whole range of the most up-to-date products available to the 
American consumer. Together the United States Information Service and the 
Advertising Council (a World War II trade group that was formed to help sell 
war bonds and promote other wartime campaigns) collaborated to produce a 
guide to advertising in foreign countries entitled Advertising: A New Weapon 
in the World-Wide Fight for Freedom. The guide indicated the value that the 
Eisenhower Administration placed on advertising. 36 

In 1952, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) ran an advertisement in 
Commentary for its television and radio products with the legend: "Freedom's 
clear voice goes to sea." The text of the message read: 

When broadcasting Freedom's message to Iron Curtain countries, 
transmitters must contend with deliberate radio interference, cre- 
ated to 'jam' the air. Aboard the Truth Ship Courier, a powerful 
RCA transmitter fills most of one cargo hold, while a second hold 


Nathan Abrams 

contains Diesel generators which produce 1, 500, 000 watts... 
These people are seeking the Truth, and want to hear it despite a 
thousand stations built in an effort to keep Freedom's messages 
from penetrating the Iron Curtain. 

In a discursive trend similar to the Truman Doctrine, NSC 68, and the Cam- 
paign of Truth, American propaganda was associated with freedom. And in 
turn, freedom was equated with America, which was radically opposed by the 
"Iron Curtain." American radio broadcasts were synonymous with the "Truth." 
Accompanying the text was a picture of a Truth Ship at sea with the explana- 
tion: "The USCG Gutter Courier... armed with Truth, not guns... will use its 
RCA transmitter to beam messages of hope to Iron Curtain countries, and will 
also be a good-will ambassador to the free nations." This was a clear visual 
example of the concept that America must fight to demonstrate freedom abroad 
just as the ship struggles against the waves to deliver its message of truth. 

The president of RCA, David Sarnoff, was an energetic participant in the 
Cold War public-private network. Prior to World War II, Sarnoff had overseen 
RCA's total conversion to defense production. During the war he offered his 
services to the military and was appointed Eisenhower's chief of communica- 
tions. He organized and coordinated all radio communications on the Western 
Front. In recognition of his service during the war, Sarnoff was named a briga- 
dier general in the US Army. His involvement with government projects did 
not stop at the end of the war. 37 Indeed, with the onset of the Cold War it 
deepened, as he submitted regular proposals for fighting communism. He also 
advised Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberation, whose staff members trained 
at NBC studios. At his suggestion, Voice of America adopted the sign-off: 
"This is the Voice of America, for freedom and peace." RCA also cooperated 
with the United States Information Agency to produce advertising that would 
sell its products as well as "selling" America. RCA's advertisement, therefore, 
signifies the relationship between the public and private networks during the 
Cold War and the discourse that only freedom could achieve peace. 38 This is 
extended in a further advertisement that appeared in Commentary in February 
1954. General Sarnoff, as he is now known, is shown operating a transmitter 
to the fleet units around the world under the guidance of Admiral Robert B. 
Carney, Chief of Naval Operations. 

Another sign of the promotion of freedom in America was manifested in an 
advertisement for the Ford Motor Company. The text read: 

The American Road is more than a highway that has helped bring 
prosperity to this country - it is a way of living, wrought out of 
the character of a people constantly moving forward toward a better 
life for mankind. Ford Motor Company is dedicated to the Ameri- 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

can Road, in the belief that it will lead toward freedom, justice 
and security for all men. 

America was praised for its freedom of movement as signified by a full- 
page image of the/reeway. The "American Road" was also a sign of the on- 
ward and upward progress of its people, which would eventually benefit all of 
humanity. America was thus exportable, for everyone all over the world could 
enjoy the technological benefits that its roads could bring. Not only was Ford 
Motor Company "dedicated to the American Road" as a signifier of freedom, 
it was also benevolently dedicated to advancing the cause of "freedom" for 
"all men." 

However, the advert contained a conspicuous omission. Automobile adver- 
tising in the mid-fifties focused on the image of the car, whether it was in a 
showroom, an elaborate set, or on the road. 39 The American Road advertise- 
ment, in contrast, did not take the car as its central image. Instead, it took a 
more general approach emphasizing the freeway rather than focusing on a spe- 
cific product. The full-page depiction of a highway interchange not only rein- 
forced clearly the discursive notion that freedom was America (and its roads), 
it also presented Ford as a benevolent and tolerant American company more 
concerned with protecting freedom than with selling its own particular prod- 

The American Oil Company (Amoco), another corporation connected with 
the motor industry, radiated similar ideas. Its "Freedom Message" of July 1952 
stated: "Singing the Star Spangled Banner isn't enough. . . work for defense. . . 
your country needs you." In this way, Amoco exhorted Commentary's readers 
and the consumers of its products to the sort of intensified mobilization against 
the Soviet Union that the Administration believed was necessary to win the 
Cold War. Again, like Ford, it presented the notion that Amoco was more con- 
cerned with the freedom of the nation than with selling oil. 

Commentary did not just include advertisements for consumer products. 
Specifically political appeals also appeared on its pages. One such appeal that 
appeared in Commentary in February 1955 was sponsored by another Cold 
War enterprise, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom (ACCF). The 
ACCF was a non-partisan community of intellectuals dedicated to taking "ap- 
propriate steps against whatever forces in the present-day world threaten our 
free culture" and to exposing "the Communist conspiracy and its totalitarian 
threat to America and other free countries." The ACCF expressed its benevo- 
lent mission in terms no different from those articulated by the Truman Doc- 
trine and NSC 68. The ACCF felt it was worthwhile to advertise and request 
contributions for its activities in Commentary magazine. The Committee obvi- 
ously felt that Commentary's readers were conducive to the ACCF's ideas: 


Nathan Abrams 

"We," the executive board of the ACCF wrote, "feel we have a special claim on 
your attention. You would not be a reader of this magazine if you were not 
committed to the free life of the mind and spirit." Indeed, many of those who 
signed the appeal edited and wrote for Commentary: Elliot Cohen, Daniel Bell, 
David Riesman, Diana Trilling, and Sidney Hook. 40 

In April of the same year, an advertisement placed by the Crusade for Free- 
dom depicted a graphic image of a fist clutching "Truth Dollars," which were 
used for "fighting Communism behind the Iron Curtain" and to "support Ra- 
dio Free Europe broadcasts to 70 million freedom hungry people" (Fig. 1). 
Radio Free Europe (RFE) had been created as an ostensibly private corpora- 
tion designed to target anticommunist propaganda at Eastern Europe. Although 
the government continued to fund RFE covertly using unattributed funds, an 
elaborate fund-raising campaign termed the "Crusade for Freedom" encour- 
aged the notion that it was a genuinely private station. 41 

At the same time, the Welch Grape Juice Company, Inc. ran an advertise- 
ment in every issue of Commentary entitled "This I Believe." They amounted 
to a series of quotes on the subject of freedom and liberty from well-known 
intellectuals and were dubbed a "public service" on behalf of the company. 
Two in particular advanced the specific cause of the United States in its free- 
dom campaign against the Soviet Union. In July 1954 an excerpt by Adlai E. 
Stevenson appeared: 

The short of the matter is that the survival of our freedoms, indi- 
vidual and collective, is closely linked to the good name, the pri- 
vate reputation, if you please, of our government. Its preservation 
is necessary to evoke the loyalties, both at home and abroad, upon 
which government must make heavy drafts. 

The second advertisement, appearing in December 1952, cited Lord Acton's 
"Essays on Freedom and Power" (1948): "A generous spirit prefers that his 
country should be poor and weak and of no account but free, rather than pow- 
erful, prosperous and enslaved." Thus through its ads for Grape Juice, Welch's 
reminded its consumers of the ongoing struggle to preserve freedom against 
the tyranny of the Soviet Union. Again, like the other advertisements, a spe- 
cific emphasis on a particular product was conspicuous by its absence. 

All of the above advertisements in Commentary were for products that ap- 
pealed to all Americans regardless of ethnic origin. As befitting a magazine 
primarily aimed at a Jewish audience, advertisements also appeared that ap- 
pealed to specifically Jewish concerns. These adverts fused discourses of Ju- 
daism to discourses of freedom. The clearest example of this was one that 
appeared in April 1954 on behalf of Barricini, a confectionery company (Fig. 
2). The header explicitly equated Jewish ritual practice with the concept of 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

freedom: "PASSOVER holiday of freedom !" it read. Underneath, in terms in- 
distinguishable from the discourses of the Eisenhower Administration, the text 
stated: "What does Passover mean to the Jew? It means freedom." This free- 
dom represented "an uninterrupted tradition of countless generations." The 
Jewish discourse of freedom, according to Barricini stores, "means the victory 
of the spirit over oppression and brutal tyranny," which was explicitly "inter- 
twined" with "the memories of days long past." This advertisement consciously 
exploited narratives of Jewish tradition and ritual to construct a memory of 
freedom in Jewish history that echoed those produced by the Truman Doc- 
trine, NSC 68, and the Campaign of Truth. 

The text is reinforced by the depiction of a happy, content, and secure fam- 
ily gathered together around the ritual Seder table. The family unit was ad- 
vanced at that time as the basic building block of containment and the bulwark 
against communism. 42 It has been pointed out that the Eisenhower Adminis- 
tration was "convinced that the United States would not survive unless the 
domestic ideal. then in force in the nation could be successfully exported to the 
rest of the world." 4 ' What is more, the observance of religious traditions was 
construed to be another method of fighting atheistic communism since the 
Truman Doctrine positioned America against godless atheism. In addition, the 
abundance of food displayed on the table projected the notion of freedom from 
want and hunger, especially since the goods advertised were luxury items and 
not commodities (Chocolate Wafer Matzos; Macaroons; After-Seder Mint 
Leaves; Paradise Fruits; "Barri" holiday's Seder Record and Passover Candy). 
Nonetheless, the visual emphasis on the family unit rather than on the adver- 
tised products reinforced the notion that Barricini was more concerned with 
protecting the family unit as a defense against communism than with merely 
selling its candy. 

During the Cultural Cold War, therefore, hegemonic discourses of freedom 
were produced, consumed, and negotiated by many private and public agen- 
cies. The discourses achieved a position of hegemony to such an extent that 
they even began to appear in advertising. The motives of the advertisers were 
many and complex. In the case of RCA, Ford, Amoco, and Welsh's Grape 
Juice, the advertisements signified the willingness of these corporations to as- 
sist in the cultural struggle against the Soviet Union and the extent to which 
they believed in American capitalism and consumerism. These companies were 
not willing dupes merely passively reflecting hegemonic discourses. Many of 
these corporations' ideas were adopted by the Eisenhower Administration at 
their suggestion, as I have shown with the example of RCA. In addition, these 
particular companies were also involved in government initiatives. 

At the same time, however, there was also an element of business acumen. 
These discourses of freedom were in circulation throughout American society 


Nathan Abrams 

during the Cultural Cold War. It is unsurprising, therefore, to find them used 
in advertising as they represented the latest trend in marketing strategies. More- 
over, Commentary's readership was regarded as intelligent, aware of interna- 
tional events, and thus conducive to such selling techniques. For example, Vice- 
roy rationalized that by advertising its cigarettes in Commentary, it would reach 
Commentary's intellectual and highbrow audience. 44 As the ACCF put it: "You 
would not be a reader of this magazine if you were not committed to the free 
life of the mind and spirit." 45 In the case of Barricini candy, this seems to have 
been the motivation behind their conscious use of freedom and Judaism. 

Through its advertisements, therefore, Commentary was not only able to 
reflect discourses of freedom aligned with hegemonic positions, but also to 
promote them as well. Consequently, freedom was privileged and naturalized 
by its setting in everyday, mundane contexts. Freedom was advertised as an 
indispensable commodity inextricably linked with other products: grape juice, 
cars, roads, radios, sweets, and televisions. As a highbrow, intellectual maga- 
zine, Commentary was somewhat unique in this respect. While similar jour- 
nals such as Partisan Review, The New Leader, and Encounter engaged dis- 
courses of freedom in written terms, Commentary was almost alone in uphold- 
ing them visually as well. This use of freedom was evident beyond magazines. 
As new research has shown, Disney was active in deploying discourses of free- 
dom within its newly opened theme park, Disneyland. 46 Thus, these advertise- 
ments within Commentary can be fitted into a larger framework during the 
Cultural Cold War. The Eisenhower Administration believed that the United 
States had a holy duty to export freedom, democracy, and capitalism abroad. 
Consequently, advertising freedom became a key strategy implemented by the 
United States Information Service and the Advertising Council during these 
years. At world and international trade fairs, American corporations aggres- 
sively promoted consumer products and the ideal of progress and material abun- 
dance. In doing so, they not only hoped to win the struggle against commu- 
nism, but also to convert others to the American way. 47 Overall, freedom meant 
capitalism because only capitalism could provide the freedom to consume. 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 


(Fig. 1) 



"Truth Dollars" 

Join the millions of Americans who 
are fighting Communism behind the 
Iron Curtain with "Truth Dollars". . . 
dollars that support Radio Free Eu- 
rope broadcasts to 70 million freedom 
hungry people. Send your "Truth Dol- 
lars'* to Crus&de far Freedom, cfo your 
local Postmaster, today* 

Nathan Abrams 
(Fig. 2) 


holiday of freedom! 

What does Passover mean 
fo the Jew? It means freedom. 
It means the warm glow and the prida 
and glory of an uninterrupted tradition 
of countless generations. It means 
victory of the spirit over oppression 
and brutal tyranny. It means 
the joy of family and all those near 
and dear gathered around the 
festive Seder table, and the memones 
of days long post intertwined 
with the wide-eyed wonder of the 
youngest member of the family 

la help you enjoy every moment 
of this most joyous holiday of all, 
the Sorricini family has prepared 
its greatest Passover assortment — 
Selected Miniatures for Passover — 
a "Seder" in itself; Cnocofote Wafer 
Malzos; Mocoroons, After-Seder 
Mint looms; Paradise fruits; 
'' aorr '" Holiday's Seder Record end 
Passover Condy — the perfect 
Afikomen gift for every child; 
ond many other delicacies. 
Aloft of ffie candies are also PARBVE 


»arncin> stores are located throughout 
the New York area, Newark ond 
Philadelphia. Visit your nearest 
Barricini store today or write for 
Passover brochure to: 

22 Iv 41st Ave. 
long Island Cily 1. N.Y. 
or phono Miu Blanche; 
STidw.ll 6-220O 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 


' Harry S. Truman, Speech before Congress (12 March 1947), extracted in Martin 
McCauley, The Origins of the Cold War (London and New York: Longman, 1983), 

2 Ibid. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Daniel T. Rodgers, Contested Truths: Keywords in American Politics Since Inde- 
pendence (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 217. 

5 Truman, Speech before Congress, 121. 

6 Robbie Lieberman, '"Does That Make Peace a Bad Word?': American Responses 
to the Communist Peace Offensive, 1949-1950," Peace & Change 17 (1992): 198-228. 

"NSC 20/4: Note by the Executive Secretary on U.S. Objectives With Respect to 
the USSR to Counter Soviet Threats to U.S. Security" (24 November 1948) in Foreign 
Relations of the United States, 1948 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 
1949), Vol. 1, 665. 

s Walter L. Hixson, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 
1945-1961 (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1998), 14. 

' "NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security" ( 14 April 
1950), reprinted in American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68, ed. Ernest R. 
May (Boston: Bedford, 1993), 32. 

10 Ibid., 29. 

11 Ibid., 26. 

12 Ibid., 29, 30, 32. 

13 Ibid., 40. 

14 Ibid., 27. 

15 Ibid., 28. 

16 Ibid., 42. 

17 Ibid., 27. 
IS Ibid., 28. 

19 Ibid., 27. 

20 Ibid., 28. 

21 Ibid., 29. 

22 Ibid. 

23 Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 13-14. 

24 Christopher Lasch, "The Cultural Cold War: A Short History of the Congress for 
Cultural Freedom," in his The Agony of the American Left: One Hundred Years of 
Radicalism ( London: Pelican, 1973), 64-111. According to Thomas W. Braden. the 
person responsible for supervising the CIA's cultural activities in the 1950s, the rules 


Nathan Abrams 

for using such fronts were: "Use legitimate, existing organizations; disguise the extent 
of American interest; protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to 
support every aspect of official American policy." See his "I'm Glad the CIA Is 'Im- 
moral,' " Saturday Evening Post (20 May 1967), 14. 

25 Ely M. Aaron, quoted in Ways to Human Freedom: 40 th Annual Report oftheAJC, 
1946 (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1947), 101. 

26 44th Annual Report of the AJC, 1950 (New York: American Jewish Committee, 
195 1 ), 35. These figures are drawn from the 42'"' Annual Report oftheAJC, 1948 (New 
York: American Jewish Committee, 1949), 70. 

21 - For a history of the first fifty years of the AJC, see Noami W. Cohen, Not Free to 
Desist: The AJC 1906-1966 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 

28 Seymour J. Rubin, letter to Simon Segal, 15 February 1954, AJC Records, YIVO 
Institute for Jewish Research, New York, RG 347 GEN- 12, Box 139, France: Rosenberg 
Case Reaction FO-EUR, 52-54, 3. 

29 Irving M. Engel, quoted in 45 th Annual Report of the AJC, 1951 (New York: Ameri- 
can Jewish Committee, 1952), 33. 

30 Barbara Zimmerman, quoted in Ralph Melnick, The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: 
Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Staging of the Diary (New Haven and London: 
Yale University Press, 1997), 15. 

31 Milton S. Katz, "Commentary and the American Jewish Intellectual Experience," 
Journal of American Culture 3:1 (Spring 1980): 158. 

32 See for example, Irving Kristol, "'Civil Liberties,' 1952 - Study in Confusion: Do 
We Defend Our Rights by Protecting Communists?" Commentary 1 3 ( 1 952), 228-236. 

33 See Robert Warshow, "The 'Idealism' of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg," Commen- 
tary (November, 1953); Lucy Dawidowicz, "Antisemitism and the Rosenberg Case: 
The Latest Communist Propaganda Trap," Commentary 14 (July 1952), 41-45. 

34 Time, 29 January 1951. 

35 For a treatment of Commentary's discourse of freedom in a written rather than 
visual format please see my unpublished Ph.D. thesis, "Struggling for Freedom: Arthur 
Miller, the Commentary Community, and the Cultural Cold War" (University of Bir- 
mingham, 1998). 

36 Robert H. Haddow, Pavilions of Plenty: Exhibiting American Culture Abroad in 
the 1950s (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997). 

37 Erik Barnouw, The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, 
Volume III -From 1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 145. 

38 As part of its discourse of freedom, the United States denigrated the USSR's 
discourse of "peace" as empty rhetoric. It was noted that "the 'peace policy' of the 
Soviet Union, described at a Party Congress as 'a more advantageous form of fighting 
capitalism,' is a device to divide and immobilize the non-Communist world, and the 
peace the Soviet Union seeks is the peace of total conformity to Soviet policy." See 


Advertising Freedom: Commentary Magazine and the Cultural Cold War 

"NSC 68," 28. According to Lieberman, the placing of the word "peace" in quotation 
marks "suggested that the words were disingenuous, not representing any serious con- 
cern for peace." See Lieberman, "Does That Make Peace a Bad Word?", 205. 

19 James L. Baughman, "The Frustrated Persuader: Fairfax M. Cone and the Edsel 
Advertising Campaign, 1957-59," in The Other Fifties: Interrogating Midcentury Ameri- 
can Icons, ed. Joel Foreman (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 

w Commentary 19 (February 1955), no pp. 

41 Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 59-60. 

4: Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era 
(New York: Basic Books, 1988). 

43, Haddow, Pavilions of Plenty, 1 . 

44 Martin Mayer, Madison Avenue U.S.A.: The Inside Story of American Advertising 
(London: The Bodley Head, 1958), 148. 

45 Commentary 19 (February 1955), no pp. 

46 See Emma Lambert, "'Don't Fight It, You Can't Whip Mickey Mouse': 
Disneyland's Cold War 1955-1959" (unpublished M.Phil diss.. University of Birming- 
ham, 1998). 

47 See Haddow, Pavilions of Plenty, 1-47. 


Southern Fundamentalism and 

Anticommunism At the Beginning of the 

Cold War: the Controversy between 

J. Frank Norris and Louie D. Newton 

William R. Glass 
Mississippi University for Women 

In 1946, after touring the Soviet Union to see how its leaders used Ameri- 
can relief, Louie D. Newton, President of the Southern Baptist Convention 
(SBC), offered a few words of praise concerning religious life in Russia. New- 
ton suggested, "Religiously we should regard Russia as our great ally. It is a 
virgin field for freedom ... because Russia never knew freedom of religion 
until the present regime." Moreover, Newton found some similarities in prin- 
ciples between Baptists and Russians: "The Baptists stand for the same thing 
as the Russian Government — renouncement of resistance to coercion in mat- 
ters of belief." 1 

Eight months later, the renegade Ft. Worth fundamentalist J. Frank Norris 
attacked Newton as an "appeaser of Moscow." 2 He hoped not only to score 
some points concerning Newton's worthiness as leader of the SBC and, by 
general association, cast suspicion upon the SBC's leadership, but also to tie 
his ongoing fundamentalist crusade against the Convention to the rising tide of 
anticommunism at the beginning of the Cold War. Furthermore, Norris's as- 
sault gained some extended regional notice because Norris sued Atlanta Con- 
stitution editor Ralph McGill for libel concerning a McGill editorial criticiz- 
ing Norris's attacks on Newton. This incident shows how the public's percep- 
tion of Russia began changing from that of wartime ally to Cold War adver- 
sary. Additionally, it reveals how one southern fundamentalist used anticom- 
munism as a weapon in denominational politics in his war against what he saw 
as theological liberalism in the SBC. Finally, Norris's attacks on Newton fore- 
shadow the accusatory methods that politicians would use later in the decade 
to tar the reputations of their opponents. 

Fundamentalism as a movement within American Protestantism had its ori- 
gins in the evangelicalism of the late nineteenth-century northern cities. It rep- 
resented an attempt to defend certain doctrines against the effort to restate 
traditional Protestant orthodoxy in modern, theologically liberal terms and in 
light of historical and scientific findings. 3 The most important of the doctrines 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

fundamentalists defended was the inerrancy of the Bible, that is, the idea that 
the Bible is without error not only in what it teaches concerning sin and salva- 
tion, but also in its statements on history and science. Additionally, fundamen- 
talists worried that liberal denial of miracles and stress on the social gospel 
undermined what they saw as the Bible's central message: Christ's death on 
the cross providing salvation for lost humanity. 

The defense took two forms in the 1920s. One aspect was a battle within 
denominations between fundamentalists and liberals over the definition of doc- 
trinal standards and the control of denominational institutions like seminaries 
and mission boards. The other area of conflict was over the teaching of evolu- 
tion in public schools, a fight which symbolized to fundamentalists their effort 
to restore American culture to its Protestant roots. 4 Fundamentalists failed to 
achieve their goals in both areas and left the mainline denominations, in some 
cases splitting individual congregations. During the 1930s, their movement 
fragmented into overlapping networks of churches, missionary organizations, 
and Bible colleges, with no unifying organization or institution. 5 Except for 
the evolution controversy, southern Protestants watched from the sidelines as 
fundamentalist strife racked northern denominations. In part southerners be- 
lieved that their denominations were orthodox and that regional institutional 
divisions kept the disease in the North. 6 

Some southern Protestants did not read the evidence in quite the same way, 
and one was J. Frank Norris, pastor of Ft. Worth's First Baptist Church. For 
most of a career that stretched from the 1910s into the 1950s, Norris waged an 
unrelenting attack on the SBC for what he viewed as deviation from traditional 
doctrines and practices. His attack on Newton was only one campaign out of 
many, but its significance lay in his use of a nontheological weapon, anticom- 
munism, and in the effort to link his campaign to broader cultural and political 

Of the three largest southern denominations, the Southern Baptists experi- 
enced the most fundamentalist agitation, in large measure due to the presence 
of J. Frank Norris. 7 He regularly assaulted the Southern Baptist Convention 
and its schools in his newspaper The Searchlight (later called The Fundamen- 
talist ). Though not ignoring theological liberalism and evolution in the 1920s, 
Norris's most potent issue for recruiting followers out of the SBC for the fun- 
damentalist movement was the growing bureaucratization of the convention, 
which diminished the autonomy of the local church. 8 His efforts won him 
supporters in the Southwest but also alienated Baptists in other regions who 
doubted his charges of liberalism in the convention and questioned the dangers 
he saw in the growth of denominational boards. The limited range of Norris's 
appeal can be measured in his troubled relations with other Baptists in Texas. 
By 1924, city, county, and state Baptist associations had excluded Norris from 


William R. Glass 

attending their meetings due to his censorious attacks on other pastors and 
non-cooperation with SBC programs. 9 A series of scandals also undercut 
Norris's appeal. Twice, in 1912 and 1929, fire destroyed the sanctuary of the 
First Baptist Church. Rumors circulated that Norris set the fires in order to 
collect insurance to finance the construction of a larger building. A jury found 
Norris innocent of arson the first time, and prosecutors filed no charges in the 
second case. In 1927, Norris was acquitted of charges that he murdered a man 
in his church study. Norris did not deny killing the man but pleaded self-de- 
fense, even though the man was unarmed." 1 By this time, most Southern Bap- 
tists had adopted the attitude articulated earlier in the decade by A. T. Robertson: 
"We just pay no attention to him and go on with our work."" 

In the 1920s, Norris failed to build a Southern Baptist constituency under 
his leadership within the northern interdenominational fundamentalist move- 
ment. He attempted to recruit Southern Baptists for the interdenominational 
World Christian Fundamentals Association and the Baptist Bible Union (BBU), 
but the prominence of Norris in these organizations seemed to limit their ap- 
peal, and some Southern Baptists saw a sinister purpose in Norris's efforts. 
According to F. S. Groner, editor of the Baptist Standard , Norris's purpose in 
sponsoring this "cult" (the BBU) was to create a "new denomination" that he 
and his fellow "reactionaries ... could boss till their heart's content." 12 

During the 1930s, Norris invested more of his time and energy into trying 
to expand his fundamentalist constituency by developing a northern base and 
into building an organization that avoided the faults he found with the Conven- 
tion. 13 His first step in enlarging his following was taken in 1935 when he 
assumed the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit while continuing to 
lead his Texas congregation. 14 Then in 1938 he reorganized his Premillennial 
Baptist Missionary Fellowship into the World Fundamental Baptist Mission- 
ary Fellowship. He moved the Fellowship's offices to Chicago and broadened 
the scope of the Fellowship's activities to include promoting evangelistic ef- 
forts in North America, educating pastors, and opposing liberalism. Within a 
few months, over two hundred churches joined the Fellowship. Additionally, 
in 1939 Norris started a Bible institute in his Ft. Worth church, and the school 
became the Bible Baptist Seminary in 1944. 15 Norris was well on his way to 
giving his opposition to the Convention a permanent institutional structure. 16 

During these years, Norris began offering a sustained commentary in his 
sermons and newspapers about the threat of communism to Christianity and 
the American way of life. i7 Though Norris had preached against communism 
before 1935, his assuming the pastorate of Temple Baptist represented a sig- 
nificant turning point in his consideration of communism. Several factors height- 
ened Norris's sensitivity. For example, the Northern Baptist Convention's em- 
phasis on the Social Gospel sounded suspiciously communistic to Norris's 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

ears. Also the labor unrest Norris saw among Detroit's auto workers looked 
like a communist-inspired threat to capital. Perhaps most significant, Norris 
fell under the spell of some of Detroit's leading industrialists, and, according 
to Barry Hankins, "the allure of these friendships was too much for Norris's 
ego." 18 Norris called for typically fundamentalist measures to combat the com- 
munist threat: evangelistic efforts and prayer for the Second Coming of Christ. 
But he went beyond this general call to meet specific challenges. He charged, 
for example, that communists sought to undermine American society and po- 
litical institutions by infiltrating American churches and universities. He be- 
lieved that the process had already begun and was evident in the activities of 
the leadership of the Northern Baptist Convention. For this reason, he led the 
members of Temple Baptist into voting to withdraw from the Convention. He 
further suggested that universities had the duty to fire professors who espoused 
communist ideology. 

Communism represented such a peril for a variety of reasons. Its collectiv- 
ist ideal threatened American individualism; its espousal of racial equality chal- 
lenged Jim Crow; its advocacy of state ownership of the means of production 
undermined the right to private property; and most important of all, its atheism 
represented a secular version of theological liberalism that jeopardized the vi- 
tality of American churches. So great was the danger that Norris set aside his 
virulent anti-Catholicism to recommend cooperation with Roman Catholics to 
fight the communist menace. 

During World War II, Norris focused on combating fascism without com- 
menting on American aid to communist Russia, perhaps accepting the neces- 
sity of this alliance to defeat Germany. 19 After 1945, however, and under the 
influence of the Cold War, Norris resumed his assault, warning now not only 
of a communist threat within America, but of the external dangers represented 
by an aggressive Soviet Union and China. 

This renewed postwar crusade against communism, however, did not dis- 
tract Norris from his campaign against the SBC nor from his efforts to recruit 
new members to his organizations. One of Norris's favorite tactics was to try to 
discredit SBC leadership with the goal of convincing Southern Baptists to leave 
the Convention. One of his best opportunities to strike out at the Convention, 
and to combine that battle with his efforts to expose communist influence within 
American institutions, came following the war when the SBC President Louie 
Newton offered a few mild words of commendation concerning the religious 
situation in Russia. 20 

Born in 1 892 and raised in rural eastern Georgia, Louie D. Newton took an 
unusual path to the pastorate. After earning his bachelor's degree at Mercer 
University and a Master's from Columbia University but having no theological 
training, he worked for Georgia Baptists in a variety of ways in the 1910s and 


William R. Glass 

1920s. He began by teaching history at Mercer from 1913 to 1917. Next he 
directed publicity for an effort to raise money from Georgians for the Conven- 
tion, and then he edited for most of the 1920s the Christian Index , the newspa- 
per of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Called and ordained in April 1929, to 
lead the Druid Hills Baptist Church in a wealthy Atlanta suburb, Newton en- 
larged the scope of his work by holding several offices in the Convention bu- 
reaucracy as well as serving as Secretary in the Baptist World Alliance. In May 
1946, the messengers to the annual meeting of the SBC elected Newton their 
President, the youngest man to serve in that office. 21 

Newton had only been President of the Southern Baptist Convention for a 
few days when he learned that he had been invited to be its representative on a 
summer tour of Russia sponsored by the American Society for Russian Re- 
lief. 22 During his twenty-five days in the Soviet Union, in addition to observ- 
ing how Russians used American relief and conferring with Soviet officials on 
the people's needs, he met with Baptist pastors in nine different cities and 
preached in their churches. 23 The pastors in Moscow told him that "we are 
now enjoying a measure of freedom unknown by the Baptists in all the years of 
our witness in Russia" and that "we are free to preach what we believe." 24 The 
pastors may have been exaggerating, but it is true that during the war Joseph 
Stalin had modified the anti-religious policy of the Soviet government. Offer- 
ing a "tactical compromise," 25 he had permitted the appointment of the first 
Patriarch of the Orthodox Church since the Bolshevik Revolution, had allowed 
churches to reopen, and had encouraged the creation of the All Union Council 
of Evangelical/Baptists. The latter step was so significant that Walter Sawatsky 
has described it as marking "the birth of Soviet Protestantism." 26 Thus, 
Newton's visit occurred when religious life in the Soviet Union was freer than 
at any other time during Stalin's reign, and these conditions may account for 
Newton's perception of religious liberty in Russia. He also met with Stalin, 
giving him a pocket New Testament in English. Upon his return to America, 
Newton sent a Russian version with the inscription, "From one Georgian to 
another Georgian." 27 

Based on these experiences, Newton made the suggestions noted earlier 
about regarding Russia as "our great ally" and describing the country as "a 
virgin field for freedom," particularly in matters of religion. Additionally, he 
told a crowd of 3,500 Baptists gathered in Atlanta's Municipal Auditorium that 
"the Soviet Government has at last recognized that religion is a vital thing" 
and that it was "smart enough to grant what appears to be complete freedom of 
worship." 28 Time was reasonably generous in suggesting that Newton's re- 
marks resulted from his "holy innocence," 29 while some mainstream Southern 
Baptists sought to dissociate the SBC from them. Frank Tripp of Montgomery, 
Alabama, told Time that Newton was "not authorized to speak as a representa- 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

tive of the Convention but ... has a perfect right to express himself as an indi- 
vidual." 30 

Newton, though, had several defenders, and their comments reveal that the 
hardline, Cold War antagonism toward Russia had not completely formed by 
the summer of 1946. Tripp's hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Adver- 
tiser , criticized those who had accused Newton of defending communism and 
supported Newton's privilege of free speech. In an interesting query, the editor 
wondered, "Are we approaching a state of mind in the United States which 
will permit no comment considered friendly or favorable to Russia?" The 
lesson the editor drew from Newton's ordeal was that it would "intimidate and 
silence any report on Russia that happens to interpret the people there as half- 
way decent and the possible sharers of a world at peace." 31 In a letter to the 
Editor of the Christian Index , Carl Bennett of Georgia's Wesleyan College 
argued that Newton was not "pro-communist" but 

pro-humanity. If he did not exploit our fears of an admittedly to- 
talitarian regime, perhaps it was because he was more interested 
in telling us what every American needs to know and to keep in 
mind; that the Russians, first of all before being communists, are 
people , that they have known pain and heartache and suffering 
magnified beyond our experiences in the war, and that they have 
aspirations for the same peace we are working and praying for. 32 

Newton's words, though, were too easy a mark for Norris to pass up, and, 
perhaps sensing a division he could exploit, Norris called for Newton to resign 
his office. 33 But he misplayed his hand by trying to force the issue at the next 
annual convention held in St. Louis in May 1947. Renting an auditorium for 
the same days as the Southern Baptist meetings, Norris planned to hold rallies 
and preach in a counter-convention. 34 Moreover, he had a special surprise for 
Newton and alerted the press to attend a pre-Convention session where New- 
ton would report on his Russian trip. 3 "' As Newton rose to speak, Norris began 
shouting out a list of questions designed to embarrass Newton and to challenge 
his loyalty to America. 36 He questioned Newton's description of Soviet reli- 
gious freedom, pointing out that the state owned all church property, sent spies 
into church services, and forbade criticism of the government. Under these 
circumstances, yelled Norris, "how then can there be religious freedom?" 37 
Drowned out by congregational singing, Norris renewed his harassment at the 
end of the hymn. By this time, police were on the scene and Norris retreated, 
claiming that he had successfully exposed Newton and other Southern Baptist 
leaders as "appeasers of Moscow." 38 

Rallying to Newton's defense was Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta Con- 
stitution . 39 In a May 8 editorial, he called Norris "a Ku Klux yelper and a loud 

mouth shouter in many demagogic political and hate rallies" and denounced as 
ridiculous Norris's accusations that Newton was sympathetic to communism. 
Knowing Newton through his ministry at the Druid Hills church, McGill sug- 
gested that Newton may have been duped by the Russians into making his 
"naive" comments but that Newton was no "appeaser." McGill reviewed 
Norris's career, incorrectly locating his church in Austin and suggesting that 
Norris's attacks were motivated by his desire to become president of the Con- 
vention. Calling him a "pistol-toting divine," McGill reminded his readers of 
Norris's murder trial. McGill concluded by noting his regret in not being able 
to attend the Convention and "to shout with the ministers." 40 

Disturbed and angered by McGill's characterizations, Norris responded, 
first writing to accuse McGill of including false statements then cryptically 
warning that "you will hear from me again." 41 Within a week, a Fort Worth 
District Attorney indicted McGill for criminal libel, but, on the advice of his 
Atlanta lawyer Samuel Hewlett, Norris did not aggressively pursue the charges. 
However, he did authorize Hewlett to file a civil libel suit. 42 By the end of the 
summer of 1947, Hewlett had negotiated an agreement that McGill would pub- 
lish an apology and retraction in return for Norris dropping the criminal com- 
plaint and any claims for monetary damages. 43 Norris did not indicate his 
approval until the following February, so the retraction appeared in the 20 March 
1948 edition of the Constitution . 44 Apparently Norris was more upset with 
McGill's characterization of him as a gun-bearing minister than with the com- 
ments linking him to the Klan. The only retraction and apology in the column 
concerned the "pistol-toting divine" remark. "There is no evidence," McGill 
wrote, "that Dr. Norris carried or 'packed' a pistol... The Constitution retracts 
that statement and regrets it." 43 Pleased that Newton's hometown news paper 
had published his accusations concerning Newton's procommunist leanings, 
Norris called his $500 lawyer fee "the best investment I ever made." 46 

Little evidence can be mustered to suggest that this incident had much ef- 
fect on realigning factions among Baptists in the South or persuading South- 
ern Baptists to leave the Convention. The results, nonetheless, are instructive 
for understanding Norris's inability to influence Convention affairs through an 
anticommunist crusade and for studying the reflection of American society's 
emerging anticommunist consensus in the SBC. Norris's efforts failed for two 
reasons: distrust of the messenger and disbelief in the message. Indicating his 
desire to take advantage of the disaffection with Newton he saw among South- 
ern Baptists, in April 1947 Norris predicted, "We are winning a most glorious 
war among Southern Baptists. This fight at St. Louis will bring a thousand 
churches into our Fellowship." 47 Thus, if Norris intended his performance at 
the convention to rouse opposition to Newton by embarrassing him and so 
deny him the customary second term as the Convention's president, he mis- 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

read the mood of the Convention. His effort failed as Newton easily won re- 
election. 48 

To Norris, the vote demonstrated the apathy of the rank and file Southern 
Baptist pastors to the issues before the Convention. Writing to E. P. Alldredge, 
he observed. 

But the most serious thing of that 23,000 [orthodox Southern 
Baptist pastors] is their absolute indifference. Proof of their indif- 
ference is that when Louie Newton was out with his appeasement 
campaign for Russia, not a one opened their [sic] chops. They 
told me privately that they were with me and then turned around 
and voted to elect him. 49 

Perhaps the vote was more a response to the character of the messenger than an 
indication of apathy to the message. Harold Frey, an observer at the 1947 con- 
vention for the northern liberal newspaper Christian Century , believed that 
Norris's attacks "solidified" Newton's support so that he won by an "over- 
whelming vote.'-' 50 Furthermore, Convention pastors did not seem much influ- 
enced by Norris's attempt to capitalize on McGill's retraction. Norris printed 
enough copies of the column to send to every Baptist pastor in the country, 
some 35-40,000, but the effort seemed to do little more than confirm the 
recipient's predisposition. Writing to ask Norris to send 500 extra copies, a 
Texas pastor proclaimed that "this retraction is the greatest blow Louie New- 
ton and his followers could receive," while a Charlotte pastor asked for 1 ,000 
copies, declaring, "Truly, this is V-C Day for Fundamental Baptises]."" 1 ' Most 
Southern Baptists pastors probably threw Norris's mailing into the trash.' 2 

Perhaps a more significant factor than Southern Baptists' misgivings about 
Norris's motives was their skepticism about the content of the accusations. 
First, they did not accept characterization of Newton as an "appeaser of Mos- 
cow," and second, the political and intellectual climate that created the oppor- 
tunity for Norris's attack had not shifted enough so that his efforts would be 
effective. In just a few years, some politicians, like Richard Nixon and Joseph 
McCarthy, would find that charging their opponents with being procommunist 
or even not sufficiently anticommunist would win a following and elections. 
Investigations like those conducted by the House Un-American Activities Com- 
mittee ruined careers when witnesses tried to defend their First Amendment 
rights. By the early 1950s, accusers did not need proof. Innuendo and half 
truth were sufficient to convict. 53 But in the spring of 1947, Southern Baptists 
demanded more than Norris's charges to convince them of Newton's commu- 
nist sympathies. 

Newton's contributions to the Christian Index make clear that he was not 
procommunist but rather was primarily concerned with the opportunity to preach 

William R. Glass 

the Gospel to the Russian people. Writing a column called "This Changing 
World" and occasionally contributing editorials, Newton commented on a va- 
riety of public issues, including politics and foreign policy. 34 The dangers of 
communism was one theme, but Newton distinguished between the ideology 
and its followers, condemning the former as a threat to Christianity while ex- 
pressing sympathy for the latter who needed to hear the Gospel. Newton feared 
that Cold War tensions would end what he believed was an opportunity to 
evangelize the Russian people. 55 In one column, he suggested that American 
interests would be better served if policy makers tried "to understand Russia 
rather than build up a case against Russia." 56 Understanding rather than con- 
frontation, Newton believed, would lead to an opening to preach the Gospel to 
the Russian people. Undergirding Newton's comments was his concern that 
Russians were being duped by the false promises of communism. Discussing a 
secular columnist's description of communism as a religion, Newton claimed 
that this commentary vindicated his analysis of what he saw on his Russian 

The challenge here implied is to Christianity, which is exactly 
what I have been trying to say since my visit to Russia last year. 
Communism is not the answer — Christianity is the answer. 57 

Newton's concern for missionary opportunities reflected the general ten- 
dency of Southern Baptists to evaluate activities according to their evangelistic 
potential. Thus, the immediate postwar years saw two major SBC campaigns 
for European relief, one a 1946 effort to raise $3.5 million for aid, and a second 
in late 1947 and early 1948 as a part of the Baptist World Alliance's attempt to 
gather "clothes for one million people and $1 million for food" to sustain Eu- 
ropeans during the winter. 58 Southern Baptist leaders justified involvement as 
concrete expression of both Christian charity and of the Gospel people needed 
to hear for their souls' benefit. 59 For example, Duke McCall, executive secre- 
tary of the SBC, reported that a German Baptist pastor said that his people 
"need practical Christian help" and that such assistance would aid in reaching 
Germans "for Christ." 60 Newton endorsed the participation of Southern Bap- 
tists in the Baptist World Alliance campaign, assuring his readers that their 
contributions to this program would be used to sustain fellow Baptists. 61 Both 
efforts were very successful. In a little more than three months, Southern Bap- 
tists raised over $2 million of the $3.5 million and within another two months 
raised the entire amount. 62 In the first 15 days of November 1947, the SBC 
relief center in New Orleans received over 80,000 pounds of clothes, and ma- 
terial continued to pour in through the end of the year. 63 

Interestingly, the coverage of these efforts in Baptist papers lacked a dis- 
cussion of the potential the relief had for preventing the spread of communism. 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

Leaders called the Southern Baptist rank and file to participate for religious 
not political reasons. Occasionally, a few leaders reminded their readers of the 
connection. In the same article in which McCall noted that relief could aid in 
evangelizing Germans, he also noted that the troubled circumstances in En- 
gland created the potential for revolution and warned that "if England falls, all 
western Europe drops into the lap of Communism." 64 Such comments were 
just enough to remind readers of what they had learned from the secular press. 
Thus, SBC leaders did not need to make explicit anticommunist appeals to 
support the relief efforts because the secular press had clearly made the con- 
nection. Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, Truman's call for aid to Turkey and 
Greece, the coup in Czechoslovakia, the effort to force Russian troops out of 
Iran, the success of communists in China, and the development of the Marshall 
Plan were but a few of the events that the press and politicians used to remind 
Americans of the communist threat and of the necessity of American involve- 
ment in world affairs. The SBC relief campaigns thus became a means for a 
concerned Southern Baptist to act not only out of religious principles but also 
for political reasons. Which motive was paramount for an individual contribu- 
tor is impossible to determine, but this circumstance offers another factor to 
consider in understanding the failure of Norris's attack on Newton. Southern 
Baptists could interpret their donations to relief efforts as one part of the 
denomination's contribution to stemming the tide of communist advance and 
could view the endorsement of these efforts by leaders like Newton as evi- 
dence of his anticommunist credentials. 

For Norris, this episode was merely one part of his anticommunist crusade 
and his campaign against the SBC. That his efforts this time seemed to have 
little impact did not deter him from making other attacks in the few remaining 
years of his life. In the summer of 1952, while preaching at a youth rally in 
Florida, Norris had a heart attack and died. 6 ' After his term as SBC President, 
Newton continued to serve the denomination in several offices but focused his 
attention on leading the Druid Hills congregation until his retirement in 1968. 
He also resumed his campaign against alcohol, becoming a thorn in the side of 
Atlanta mayors for their lax enforcement of liquor control laws. 66 But Newton 
remained typically Southern Baptist throughout the rest of his life in viewing 
world affairs, including the Cold War and communism, in terms of the pros- 
pects and obstacles they presented for evangelism. He died in 1986 at age 94 
after a bout with pneumonia. 67 

That public opinion in the immediate postwar years underwent a radical 
shift in its perspective on Russia and its communist leaders was evident in 
many areas of American society. Not surprisingly, religion reflected this change. 
This emphasis is not to suggest that religious leaders merely absorbed political 
trends and did not contribute to shaping those trends. Clearly, Norris and 


William R. Glass 

Newton's opinions helped mold the attitudes of their followers, but measuring 
the extent of that influence is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it might 
be worth noting in broad outline some of the ways religion contributed to the 
emerging Cold War consensus. As early as 1947, a Gallup poll reported that 
seventy-two percent of respondents believed that a stated goal of communism 
was to destroy Christianity and that seventy-seven percent denied that a good 
Christian could be a member of the communist party. 68 These figures suggest 
that a general religious anticommunism existed in American public opinion 
which politicians and other leaders might tap for support. Furthermore, reli- 
gion played a central role in America's self-definition. Not only did Americans 
during the Cold War claim to be democratic, free, equal, and open, but also 
religious, unlike the atheistic communists in Russia. In 1954, that avowal be- 
come official when Congress added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance 
and ordered that "In God We Trust" appear on American money. 64 

The controversy between Norris and Newton was but one small episode in 
the emergence of an anticommunist consensus, yet it affords the opportunity 
to analyze the transformation of public opinion that occurred. In general out- 
line, Norris's tactics anticipated those of politicians like Nixon, McCarthy and 
other redbaiters where accusation was sufficient for conviction. That Norris's 
attack on Newton failed to dislodge him from the presidency of the SBC was 
due in large measure to the distrust most Southern Baptists had of Norris. But 
his failure may also have come from the fact that broader cultural attitudes had 
not shifted so far that charges of being soft on communism would ruin a career. 
Norris clearly hoped that accusing Newton of being sympathetic to commu- 
nism would discredit Newton and win for Norris a small victory in denomina- 
tional politics. That he failed may suggest that he was ahead of his time. 

Finally, this incident furnishes the chance to consider the connection be- 
tween fundamentalism and anticommunism. Norris was a fundamentalist, and 
his primary interests were religious. That his rhetoric and activities regularly 
rose to extremes was due in part to his personality and desire for publicity, but 
also to his patriotism. For Norris, as for most fundamentalists, the United States 
was a Christian nation, and a nineteenth-century evangelical Protestantism was 
a key element in its foundation. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centu- 
ries saw the development of a number of challenges to this orthodoxy, not the 
least of which was theological liberalism. For fundamentalists like Norris, the 
threat liberalism represented was not just to religious faith but to the survival 
of America. Over the course of the twentieth century, Norris came to see com- 
munism as a secular version of liberalism, with its atheism a direct threat to the 
Christian foundation of the nation. Norris and his fundamentalist allies fought 
a holy war to defend that which made America great in their eyes and to attack 
that which threatened this foundation. The Cold War raised the stakes so that 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

even the gentle words of praise that Louie Newton offered could not be al- 
lowed to pass without comment. 

In some ways, Newton represented a more invidious threat in Norris's esti- 
mation than a card-carrying party member because Newton's position as a 
religious leader made his opinions all the more dangerous. Newton was a wolf 
in sheep's clothing, leading astray millions of Southern Baptists. That Newton 
was neither liberal in belief nor procommunist did not matter to Norris. Funda- 
mentalists after Norris continued to make this connection between liberal the- 
ology and communist doctrine so that to be a fundamentalist was by definition 
to be fervently anticommunist. 70 


1 Quoted in "Innocent Abroad," Time, 26 August 1946, 68. 

2 Quoted in "St. Louis Blues," Time, 19 May 1947, 70. 

3 The best discussion of fundamentalism's origins is George M. Marsden's Funda- 
mentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 
1875-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). This theological liberalism 
treated the Bible as simply an ancient manuscript not divinely inspired, doubted the 
reality of miracles, emphasized the ethical teachings of the Bible, and applied the mes- 
sage of salvation to society's sins. Standard studies of liberalism include Kenneth 
Cauthen, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism (New York: Harper and Row. 
1962) and William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976). 

4 In The Divided Mind of Protestant America 1880-1930 (University, Ala.: Univer- 
sity of Alabama Press, 1982), 107-135, Ferenc Szasz has the best explanation of the 
connection between the two campaigns arguing that William Jennings Bryan captured 
fundamentalists for his crusade against evolution while fundamentalists turned to anti- 
evolutionism as they were losing their denominational battles. 

5 Joel A. Carpenter, "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protes- 
tantism, 1929- 1942," Church History 49 (March, 1980): 62-75. 

(1 William R. Glass, "The Development of Northern Patterns of Fundamentalism in 
the South, 1900-1950" (Ph. D. dissertation. Emory University, 1991), 63-129. 

7 The best study of Norris and his career is Barry Hankins, God's Rascal: J. Frank 
Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (Lexington: University of 
Kentucky Press, 1996). While Hankins may overstate Norris's role in introducing fun- 
damentalist doctrine and controversy to southern Protestants. Norris is nonetheless a 
central character in the story. For a slightly different context to Norris's career, see 
Glass, "The Development of Northern Patterns," 124-128, 281-346, 383-403. 

8 In Tried as by Fire: Southern Baptists and the Religious Controversies of the 1920s 
(Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1982), 137-165, James J.Thompson discusses 


William R. Glass 

Southern Baptist fundamentalism but describes little fundamentalism outside the orbit 
of Norris. 

9 C. Allyn Russell, "J. Frank Norris: Violent Fundamentalist," in Voices of Funda- 
mentalism: Seven Biographical Studies (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 39- 

10 Ibid., 34-37. 

" A. T. Robertson to Lewis Sperry Chafer, 20 April 1928, in Lewis Sperry Chafer 
Papers, Mosher Library, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas. Robertson was a 
respected New Testament scholar at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and made 
this remark in the context of a minor controversy surrounding his appearance at Chafer's 
schools to deliver a series of lectures. On the announcement of Robertson's lectures, 
Norris wrote Chafer that Robertson was a theistic evolutionist. Chafer cabled Robertson 
for a response to the charge which Robertson emphatically denied. Thereupon Chafer 
politely told Norris to mind his own business. J. Frank Norris to Lewis Sperry Chafer, 
17 April 1928; and Lewis Sperry Chafer to J. Frank Norris, 20 April 1928, in Lewis 
Sperry Chafer Papers. 

12 F. S. Groner, "Editor Norris Promotes a New Sect," Baptist Standard, 26 April 

13 Norris continued in the 1930s his assault on the Convention by shifting his criti- 
cisms to new targets. Specifically, he charged SBC leaders with financial mismanage- 
ment and attacked their efforts to encourage SBC cooperation with ecumenical Protes- 
tantism. See J. Frank Norris, "What Has Been The Record of the Machine in Texas," in 
Inside History of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth and Temple Baptist Church, Detroit: 
Life Story of Dr. J. Frank Norris (Ft. Worth: privately published, 1938), 173-175, 186- 
189. See also comments in J. Frank Norris, "The Triple Major Operation in Detroit," in 
ibid., 159-161; J. Frank Norris to Victor I. Masters, 5 March 1932 and letter with no 
date (internal evidence suggests summer, 1932), in J. Frank Norris Papers, Box 27 
Folder 1228, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee 
(hereafter cited as J FN papers). 

14 On his ministry in Detroit see, Russell, "J. Frank Norris," 30, 40; cf., J. Frank 
Norris, "How the Dual Pastorate Was Brought About," in Inside History, 269-271 . 

15 Bible Baptist Seminary, Catalog, 1948-49, 11-12, in JFN Papers, 15-703. The 
Catalog, 17, made clear the dependence of the school on the church for its facilities. 
The seminary had a rent-free 199-year lease on all the property of the church. 

16 Billy Vick Barlett, The Beginnings: A Pictorial History of the Baptist Bible Fel- 
lowship (Springfield, Mo.: Baptist Bible College, 1975), 19-21. 

17 In this discussion, I am much indebted to the fine analysis of Norris's anticommu- 
nism in Hankins, God's Rascal, 138-160. 

18 Ibid., 116. 

19 In this regard, Norris may have been different from other fundamentalists. In An 
Undercurrent of Suspicion: Anti-Communism in America during World War II 
(Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1990), 148, George Sirgiovanni notes that many 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

fundamentalists continued "to preach vigorously against the evils of communism, [but] 
to a rather insular audience of true believers." He devotes a significant portion of one 
chapter to the ranting of Gerald L. K. Smith as an example of an extreme Protestant 
critic of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. But Sirgiovanni argues that more 
moderate fundamentalists endorsed the necessity of cooperation with communists, 
though they still worried that the results of such cooperation might end up benefitting 
the expansionist goals of communist leaders. Ibid., 163-4. 

20 Hankins, in God's Rascal, 281-300, makes clear that Norris's attack on Newton 
was one part of a much larger anticommunist campaign Norris conducted in the late 

21 "President Louie DeVotie Newton," Christian Index, 30 May 1946, 4 (hereafter 
cited as CI). 

!: Newton chaired the SBC committee that coordinated the collection of funds for 
the distribution of 175,000 kits of household items to Russian families in 1945. "Dr. L. 
D. Newton Will Tour Devastated Areas of Russia," CI, 30 May 1946, 1 1 . 

23 Newton gave an account of his tour in a series of articles published in Baptist 
newspapers. See Louie D. Newton, "What I Saw and Heard in the Union of Soviet 
Socialist Republics," CI, 12 September, 1946, 5-6; 19 September 1946, 5. 23-24; 26 
September 1946, 5-6; and 3 October 1946, 5-6, 28. 

24 Ibid., 26 September 1946, 6. 

25 William C. Fletcher, The Russian Orthodox Church Underground, 191 7-1970 (Lon- 
don: Oxford University Press, 1971), 153. 

2(> Walter Sawatsky, "Protestantism in the USSR," Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, 
ed. by Sabrina Petri Ramjet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 329. On 
the Orthodox Church, see Dimity Pospielovsky, The Russian Church under the Soviet 
Regime, 1917-1982 (Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), vol. 1, 193- 

27 "Dr. Newton Welcomes Discussion of His Report on Russia," Baptist and Reflec- 
tor, 2 January 1947, 5. 

2S Louie D. Newton, "Baptist Leader Makes Official Report on His Russian Visit," 
Atlanta Constitution, 26 August 1946, 9. Newton also affirmed that he returned to 
America "more deeply committed to the doctrine of Democracy than ever before" and 
that he believed "Communism is not the answer to the world's greatest need." In "3,500 
Hear Dr. Newton in Report on Russia," 26 August 1946, 1 , 4, the Constitution reported 
that two white supremacists picketed the meeting with a banner charging Newton with 
"selling Communism to the U. S. A." 

2 " "Innocent Abroad," 68. The Louisville Courier-Journal agreed and suggested that 
Newton had seen what the Russians had wanted him to see and therefore "innocently" 
wanted to believe "the best of another fellow," even if he was Stalin. Quoted in "Louie 
and the U.S.S.R.," Time, 9 September 1946. 80. 

30 "Louie," 79. 

31 Editorial reprinted in CI, 12 September 1946, 5. 


William R. Glass 

32 CI, 19 September 1946, 14. 

33 Ibid; "Baptist Pastor Urges Dr. Newton to Resign Post," Atlanta Constitution, 29 
August 1946, 13. 

34 J. Frank Norris to Luther C. Peak, 19 March 1947, in J FN Papers, 34-1508. 

35 This according to an anonymous letter sent to Ralph McGill, 23 May 1947, in 
J FN Papers, 28-1318. 

36 Norris gained access by having his church donate $50 to the Cooperative Pro- 
gram designated for foreign missions which entitled First Baptist to send two messen- 
gers to the convention. The church selected Norris and William Fraser, an evangelist 
who was a member of the church. E. P. Buxton to F. Mattison, 31 March 1947; and 
Jane Hartwell to the Southern Baptist Convention, 30 April 1947, in JFN Papers, 29- 

37 J. Frank Norris to Louie D. Newton, 7 May 1947, in JFN Papers, 29-1356. Norris 
sent the press a copy of the questions he tried to ask which were published in various 
newspapers including the Dallas News and the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. J. Frank Norris 
to J. Wesley Edwards, 20 May 1947, in JFN Papers, 29-1355. 

38 "St. Louis Blues," Time, 19 May 1947, 70. See also Russell's account in "J. Frank 
Norris," 42-43. 

39 The previous year, McGill came to Newton's side by affirming editorially that 
Newton was "right" in suggesting that Russia had more religious freedom under the 
Soviets than under the czars. Ralph McGill, "Religion Can Be a Club," Atlanta Consti- 
tution, 29 August 1946, 10. 

40 Ralph McGill, "J. Frank Norris Gets Shouted Down," Atlanta Constitution, 8 May 
1947, clipping in JFN Papers, 28-1318. McGill also noted, "As a Ku Klux shouter, J. 
Frank Norris naturally exhibits the Ku Klux ideal." In God's Rascal, 165-166, Hankins 
reports that he found no evidence that Norris was a member of the Klan or that he 
spoke before Klan rallies. Hankins does indicate that Norris's views on race relations 
and Catholics were in line with the Klan's but that Norris developed these views inde- 
pendent of the Klan. 

41 J. Frank Norris to Ralph McGill, 10 May 1947, in JFN Papers, 28-1318. 

42 Samuel D. Hewlett to J. Frank Norris, 22 May 1947, in JFN Papers, 2-60. Hewlett 
explained that Georgia law prevented criminal libel actions until a newspaper had the 
chance to correct misstatement of facts. 

43 Allen Post to Samuel D. Hewlett, 15 August 1947, typed copy in JFN Papers, 2- 

44 J. Frank Norris to Samuel D. Hewlett, 27 February 1948, in JFN Papers, 2-60; 
and J. Frank Norris to Samuel D. Hewlett, 4 March and 8 March 1948; and Samuel D. 
Hewlett to J. Frank Norris, 12 March 1948, in JFN Papers, 2-61. In the first letter, 
Norris explained that the delay resulted from his extended tour of Palestine. 


Southern Fundamentalism and Anticommunism at the Beginning of the Cold War 

45 "Concerning a Previous Article," Atlanta Constitution, 20 March 1948, clipping in 
JFN Papers, 2-61. McGill also corrected the misinformation concerning Norris's ca- 

46 J. Frank Norris to Samuel D. Hewlett, 31 March 1941 [sic, 1948], in JFN Papers, 

47 J. Frank Norris to Luther C. Peak, 19 April 1947, in JFN Papers, 34-1508. 

4S Victor I. Masters to J. Frank Norris, 14 March 1948, in JFN Papers, 27-1229. 
"Convention Head Re-Elected," Baptist Standard, 22 May 1947, 1. 

49 J. Frank Norris to E. P. Alldredge, 3 1 August 1948, in E. P. AUdredge Papers, box 
1, file 30, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tenn. 

50 Harold E. Frey, "Why They Behave like Southern Baptists," Christian Century, 21 
May 1947, 649. 

51 Roscoe Turner to J. Frank Norris, 15 April 1948; Maylon D. Watkins to J. Frank 
Norris, 9 April 1948, in JFN Papers, 2-61. Both men indicated they wanted to send the 
copies to each person on their mailing lists. 

52 Evidently, Norris had the habit of sending unsolicited mailings and subscriptions 
to his newspaper to whomever he desired, including members of Newton's Atlanta 
congregation. He regularly received requests from the recipients to have their names 
removed from his mailing list. A flurry of such requests appeared after Norris's attack 
on Newton in St. Louis. One congregant wrote to Norris, "We have been receiving 
your paper for several months now, and it has been consistently thrown in the trash 
basket every week... We did not subscribe to this sinister, sordid trash and have no 
desire to receive it." Mrs. Julian L. Crook to J. Frank Norris, JFN Papers, 29-1354. 
This folder and the next (29-1355) contain many such letters as well as others support- 
ing Norris in his crusade. Another part of his harassment of Newton included sending 
Sunday morning telegrams to try to disrupt Newton's services. The deacons at Druid 
Hills Baptist Church intercepted them and threw them away as well. Dallas Lee, "State 
Baptist Leader Louie D. Newton Dies," AC, 4 June 1986, A6. 

53 A good overview of these points is Stephen J. Whitfield's The Culture of the Cold 
War (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), especially Chapter 2 "See- 
ing Red: The Stigma" and Chapter 6 "Reeling: The Politics of Film." 

54 The columns cited in subsequent notes usually had comments on one or more of 
these topics. These columns usually consisted of several paragraphs on a variety of 
topics. Rarely did a column deal with just one issue. 

55 This perspective was responsible for his muted criticism of Churchill's Iron Cur- 
tain speech. Though he called the speech "significant," he suggested that Churchill's 
criticism of the Soviet Union's aggressiveness was misplaced in light of the record of 
the British Empire. Louie D. Newton, "This Changing World," CI, 21 March 1946, 7. 

56 Ibid., 4 April 1946,7. 

57 Louie D. Newton, editorial, CI, 26 June 1947, 4. 


William R. Glass 

58 See reprint of telegram, Frank Tipp to O. P. Gilbert, 21 May 1946, in CI, 30 May 

1946, 5; R. Paul Caudill, "'Complete the Doing,'" CI, 4 July 1946, 6; "Baptists Seek 
Clothes for Million, Also Million Dollars for Relief," CI, 16 October 1947, 3; and 
Harvey R. Mitchell, "Baptists Must Give Food to Europe," CI, 18 December 1947, 3. 

59 H. C. Goerner, a professor of missions in an SBC seminary, described the efforts 
of other denominations and urged Southern Baptists to accept part of the burden for 
relief because "God is giving us one last chance in our generation to evangelize a world 
before a pagan world destroys itself and us." H. C. Goerner, "Southern Baptists and the 
World Emergency," CI, 28 February 1946, 3. 

60 Duke McCall, "McCall Pleads for Baptist Relief in Europe," CI, 4 September 

1947, 5. 

61 Louie D. Newton, "This Changing World," CI, 16 October 1947, 7. 

62 "World Relief Report," CI, 5 September 1946, 1; and "It Was Done Last Year," CI, 
17 July 1947, 8. 

63 "Georgia's Churches Unite for Relief Drive," CI, 27 November 1947, 3; and "The 
Answer is You," CI, 11 December 1947, 4. 

64 McCall, "McCall Pleads," 5. 

65 Russell, 25. 

66 According to Lee, A6, famed Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield "winced" when- 
ever Newton appeared in his office door. 

67 Ibid. 

68 Cited by Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 88. 

69 Ibid., 94-100. 

70 See, for example the discussion in Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 
1930-1956 (Netherlands: Mouton & Company, 1963; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, Mich.: 
Baker Book House, 198 1 ), 46-49, 59-71 ; and in Michael Lienesch, Redeeming America: 
Piety and Politics in the New Christian Right (Chapel Hill: University of North Caro- 
lina Press, 1993), 211-223. 



ISBN: 1-883199-11-5